Since governments around the world first began issuing coins, it has been common practice for the faces of various kings, queens and emperors to appear on them.

Historically, most U.S. currency and coins have featured only people who are no longer alive. This is due to both tradition and the law; an 1866 act passed by Congress prohibited the likenesses of living people on paper currency, and more recent federal law stipulates the same for certain coins.

There have been exceptions to the rule. Perhaps most notably, Calvin Coolidge appeared with George Washington on the Sesquicentennial commemorative half-dollar coin in 1926. At the time Coolidge was both alive and serving as President of the United States. It is the first (and so far only) American coin to depict a President in his lifetime.

The first presidential face appeared on a U.S. coin in 1909. To commemorate the 133rd birthday of the nation and the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, President Theodore Roosevelt had a special one-cent coin, featuring Lincoln’s likeness, designed. The initial intention was that the new penny would only be produced that year. That summer, some 22 million new Lincoln cents were minted in Philadelphia. Since the coins were so popular with the public, the mint kept producing them, even after the Lincoln centennial ended.

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