Public Law 140
In 1907, Roosevelt ordered the Mint not to place the words on two new gold coins – the double eagle and eagle – designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. But Congress quickly overruled him and mandated use of the motto after the omission was detected, upon the coins’ release, by church groups and other dismayed Americans. Some $20 and $10 gold pieces dated 1908 carry the motto, while others do not.
Nearly half a century passed after that before the inscription was added to U.S. paper money. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law requiring the motto on all U.S. paper money as well as all coinage. The phrase was added to paper currency in increments from 1957 to 1966. In 1956, the phrase was adopted as the United States’ official national motto.
An Arkansas businessman, Matthew H. Rothert Sr. – who clearly didn’t share Teddy Roosevelt’s concern about blasphemy – played a key role in getting the motto added to paper money. Rothert noticed in 1953 that the coins on a church collection plate bore the inscription “In God We Trust” but the paper money did not. He had a more than passing interest in coins and currency, for he was an avid numismatist who went on to serve as president of the American Numismatic Association, the national coin club, from 1965 to 1967.
It was Rothert’s belief that “a message about the country’s faith in God could be easily carried throughout the world if it were on United States paper currency.” He conveyed the idea to Treasury Secretary George W. Humphrey and started a letter-writing campaign that resulted in a deluge of letters to federal officials supporting the placement of “In God We Trust” on the nation’s currency.
Public Law 140, requiring use of the motto on U.S. paper money, was introduced in the 84th Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 11, 1955. A year later, on July 30, 1956, Eisenhower signed a second bill establishing “In God We Trust” as the national motto. And one year after that, in October 1957, new $1 bills carrying the inscription became the first to enter circulation. By 1966, the words had been added to all of the nation’s paper money.