The last 90% silver dollars that were intended for circulation were the Peace Dollars that were issued between 1921 and 1935. In fact, no silver dollar coins at all were struck until 1971. But in order to honor the recently deceased President and five-star general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as the historic moon landing, plans were underway to design a coin to honor both. Ike was war hero who led our troops to victory in World War II and he was elected President in 1952 and re-elected in 1956.
There was great debate in Congress as to whether to issue a silver dollar coin that contained no silver. A compromise was reached where the coin for circulation would be made of clad and a coin for collectors would be made of 40% silver.
Frank Gasparro, then Chief Engraver for the United States Mint, upon Ike’s death started to make sketches of him. The approved design for the 1971 Eisenhower Silver Dollar had stern-looking obverse portrait of Ike facing left with the motto “LIBERTY” above, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” to the left below his chin in two lines and the date “1971” below his portrait.
The reverse faithfully honored the moon landing by using many of Astronaut Michael Collins’ patch elements – the American eagle, wings spread, landing on the Moon. In the eagle’s talons, instead of the usual arrows and an olive branch, the eagle only held the olive branch, symbolically displaying the fact that we came to the moon in peace. In the distance, the earth can be seen with the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” above the eagle, 13 five-pointed stars surround the eagle, the motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is below the stars and the denomination, “ONE DOLLAR” is at the bottom of the coin.
The circulation strikes, made of a copper-nickel clad, were first minted in Philadelphia and Denver in February of 1971, while the 40% silver proof coins were struck in San Francisco a month later in March. The Proof coins’ relief is dramatically higher than the circulation coins and comparing the two types of coins reveals the depth of the difference. The clad coins, even though struck with lower relief, were much more difficult to strike. The Mint had not attempted to strike such a large clad coin before, and the dies wore very quickly.
While the 1971-dated coins were saved as souvenirs, that was not the case for the 1972 coins. They did not circulate well and demand for them was low. There were no 1975-dated coins struck at any of the mints.
Designs for special Bicentennial Quarters, Half Dollars and Silver Dollars were created. The Mint announced an open contest for the design of the reverse of the Eisenhower dollar. Dennis Williams, a 22-year-old art student, had his design for the reverse of the coin selected and approved. Williams created a central vignette of the Liberty Bell. His design had the Liberty Bell superimposed against the moon. The mottoes and legends all remained. The only modification to the obverse was the addition of the new dates “1776 – 1976.” Over 220 million dual-dated Bicentennial silver dollars were struck in all forms allowing for as many people to have some as wanted any. There were no coins struck after the 1978-dated issue.