The Sacagawea Dollar was introduced in 2000 as the new circulating dollar coin of the United States of America. During the first two years of issue, the coins were produced in large numbers amidst optimistic expectations for widespread circulation. When the public failed to embrace the coins, they were only struck in limited numbers for numismatic purposes. Starting in 2009, an annually rotating reverse design was adopted to accompany the familiar obverse design.
The series was originally authorized under the “United States Dollar Coin Act of 1997” signed into law by President Clinton in December 1997. The visual appearance of the coins included within the legislation was the following: “The dollar coin shall be golden in color, have a distinctive edge, have tactile and visual features that make the denomination of the coin readily discernible…”
These stipulations seemed aimed at correcting the perceived shortcomings of the previous dollar coin series, which had been easily confused with other denominations. The golden color was achieved by using an alloy of managanese brass for the outer layer of the coin. The edge was plain, as opposed to reeded, and the coins had a wide rim around the circumference.
Glenna Goodacre created the obverse design for the Sacagawea Dollar. It features a portrait of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition from 1804 to 1806. She carries her newborn son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on her back. Since no contemporary image of Sacagawea exists, Goodacre used a 22 year old Shoshone woman named Randy’L He-Dow Teton as a model for the coin. To complete the obverse, the inscription LIBERTY appears above, with IN GOD WE TRUST in the left field, and the date and mint mark in the right field.
The original reverse of the coin portrays an eagle in flight designed by Thomas D. Rogers Sr. There are 17 stars around the eagle, representing each state in the Union at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Above the eagle’s head is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above, and ONE DOLLAR below.
From 2009 onwards, the obverse design of the coin was slightly altered by moving the date and mint mark to the edge of the coin, along with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. The reverse of the coin began to carry annually rotating designs celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of Native Americans. For this second stage of the series, mintages were initially higher due to production requirements within the authorizing legislation, however from 2012 onwards the coins have only been produced for distribution to collectors.