Killing the Dead Presidents

Proposed designs for U.S. currency scrap Indian-killer Andrew Jackson and religion in favor of science and achievement. Of course it'll never happen.

The Internet is crackling with comment on a project submitted as part of a master’s degree program at the Basel School of Design. Travis Purrington, an American student from Idaho, proposed a redesign of United States currency, which of course is not going to happen. This raises a couple of preliminary questions.

Why should Indians care? Not all Indians will, but significant numbers of citizens of the Five Tribes take special care when they handle U.S. twenty dollar bills, so as not to have to look at the face of the treaty-shredding practitioner of ethnic cleansing from before we had a phrase in English to describe ethnic cleansing.

All of the Five Tribes were uprooted from their ancestral lands, from their sacred sites, from the graves of their grandparents, from the locations of their origin stories. Admonished by descendants of the perpetrators to “get over it,” some of us still ask how long it would take them to get over it?

Travis Purrington's proposed redesign of the $20 bill. Image source:

Why is Purrington’s project doomed? Because he did not just ditch the dead presidents. He also removed “In God We Trust.” That alone would attract an evangelical jihad of opposition. Still, Purrington’s designs are things of beauty and well thought out, worthy of the attention they are receiving.

"The end goal,” Purrington told Mashable, “was not as much to create a functional replacement for the U.S. dollar as to create a discussion about contemporary monetary value." It was perhaps his first proposal in that discussion to eliminate the one-dollar bill, explaining that if it ever achieved a value to make it worthwhile, “we could always bring it back.”

Travis Purrington's proposed redesign of the $5 bill. Image source:

Wired was predictably enthusiastic about celebrating science on our currency rather than God and presidential demi-Gods. The fiver replaces the Great Emancipator’s portrait with a different kind of emancipation: a representation of the human neural network and the notice, “This currency is upheld by the integrity of its people.”

Travis Purrington's proposed redesign of the $10 bill. Image source:

The ten-dollar bill begins with a Bucky Ball, the carbon cage molecule that won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 and forms a building block of modern nanotechnology. The Bucky Ball is also known as buckminsterfullerene or C60, representing a form of C between graphite and diamond. It could be said that Buckminster Fuller would, by the proxy of his ideas, replace Alexander Hamilton.

Foreign Policycommented on the current twenty that “(Andrew) Jackson stares out from the $20, a reminder of the 46,000 Native Americans he forced off their ancestral lands in an act of sustained brutality almost unprecedented in American history.” While an open sewer would be an improvement, the actual artwork is a thing of beauty, a star pattern overlaid on a crashing wave. The other side features human blood cells, like the ones Jackson spilled.

Travis Purrington's proposed redesign of the $50 bill. Image source:

The only human being who makes the new money is an astronaut on the fifty, from a photo of American Danny Olivas on a spacewalk taken by Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang. On the other side, a circuit board. Both are more exciting than U. S. Grant.

Travis Purrington's proposed redesign of the $100 bill. Image source:

The venerable Benjamin is replaced by Ansel Adams’ iconic photo of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River, a view that will excite the people of that land.

Instead of E. Pluribus Unum, Latin comes to the new money as vires alit, “strength feeds.” The import for the designer is that “the truly strong help the weak.” Very like the tribal understanding of the duty of a warrior, and another reason why these beautiful designs will never kill the dead presidents.