A major departure from tradition • When Franklin D. Roosevelt died shortly before the Allied victory in WWII was achieved, the American people clamored for a lasting memorial to the four-term president who led the nation through the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Putting his image on a circulating U.S. coin alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln was proposed, but it was controversial. The others had been dead for many years before such an honor was bestowed, and all three were long established as great national leaders. In addition, some of FDR's New Deal programs during the Great Depression had been considered risky and extreme. But the Treasury made the decision to feature Roosevelt on circulating U.S. dimes (which paved the way for Kennedy half dollars and Eisenhower dollars to honor recently deceased presidents in the 1960s and 1970s).
Putting the likenesses of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln on the quarter, nickel and cent respectively was simply a matter of convenience. But putting an image of FDR on the dime had great significance. Roosevelt, who became paralyzed below the waist as an adult, had established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938 to find a cure for polio. Its first fund-raising campaign asked the public to send dimes to President Roosevelt and was called the "March of Dimes" – which became part of the name of the foundation. Roosevelt continued to spearhead the March of Dimes campaign until his death on April 12, 1945.
For the next ten years, the March of Dimes supported research to find a cure for polio, which had reached epidemic proportions and was as feared as cancer. Among the researchers was Dr. Jonas Salk of the University of Pittsburgh, who finally developed a safe and effective polio vaccine, which was administered to children nationwide beginning in 1955.
Roosevelt dimes rushed into production
After FDR's death in 1945, the new "Roosevelt dimes" were hurried into production to coincide with the 1946 March of Dimes fund-raising campaign. The obverse bears the profile of Franklin D. Roosevelt, while the reverse features a torch between an olive branch and oak branch. Just below Roosevelt's neck on the obverse are seen the "JS" initials of the coin's designer – U.S. Mint Engraver John Sinnock. When the new dimes entered circulation during the Cold War tensions after WWII, some people thought the "JS" stood for Joseph Stalin – the communist leader of the Soviet Union. The U.S. Mint quickly corrected this misconception and the coins were welcomed by the public.
Roosevelt dimes of 1946-1964 display mint marks to the left of the base of the torch on the reverse. Roosevelt dimes of 1965-1967 were all struck at the main Philadelphia Mint and bear no mint mark. Since 1968, mint marks are found just above the date on the obverse. See "The Roosevelt Dime: Going Like Sixty" in Littleton's Online Library for more about this popular, long-running series.
Silver composition gives way to clad
All Roosevelt dimes were struck in 90% silver from 1946 until 1964 – when the rising cost of silver brought an end to 90% silver circulating U.S. coinage. Since 1965, all Roosevelt dimes minted for circulation are copper-nickel clad (outer layers of copper-nickel bonded to an inner core of pure copper). However, Proof Roosevelt dimes have been struck in both copper-nickel clad and silver versions since 1992. The silver Proof dimes are 90% silver from 1992-2018 and 99.9% silver beginning in 2019).
The Roosevelt dime series of 1946 to the present is a popular and affordable collecting project spanning over 70 years. See Littleton's Roosevelt Dime Collector Checklist for a handy complete list of date and mint mark issues.