Who is on the Half Dollar?

In 1964, President John F. Kennedy made his debut on the Half Dollar coins.

Kennedy Half Dollar Current Design


The Kennedy Half Dollar is a United States coin worth 50 cents. The obverse (heads) of the Kennedy Half-dollar coins shows an image of President John F. Kennedy based on a portrait prepared for his presidential medal, while the reverse (tails) shows the presidential seal.

Continue reading to learn more about previous designs and the history of the man and leader who is on the half-dollar coin.

Kennedy's History

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country"-

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, also known as JFK, was the 35th president of the United States.

Early Life

Interested in politics since his college years, Kennedy got his taste for history and government because his father was a United States ambassador to England.

Soon after graduating, he and his brother joined the Navy. Kennedy was made Lieutenant and assigned to the South Pacific as commander of a patrol torpedo boat, the PT-109.

While commanding a patrol torpedo (PT) boat in the Solomon Islands, President John F. Kennedy suffered grave injuries when a Japanese destroyer sank his vessel. He led his men back to safety and was later awarded the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism. The story is depicted in a movie, PT 109 [1963], which contributes to the legacy.

Unfortunately, his brother also died on a mission, which changed his plans for the future. He had considered becoming a teacher or a writer before his brother's death. But after the incident, his father convinced him to run for Congress in Massachusetts' eleventh congressional district. He was elected in 1946, giving way for this political career.

Political Career

John F. Kennedy served six years in the House of Representatives, and in 1952 he was elected to the US Senate. On July 13, 1960, the Democratic party nominated him as its candidate for president.

On November 8, 1960, Kennedy defeated the Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon. At a mere age of 43, John F. Kennedy emerged as the youngest elected president in U.S. history, simultaneously breaking ground as the first Catholic to hold this esteemed position.

Despite his personal beliefs, Kennedy believed in total separation between religion and the state.

Kennedy's Legacy as Chief of State

Kennedy had many challenges to overcome. He had to lead the country through the possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union and publicly preached against racial discrimination.

Among his main contributions, in May 1961, Kennedy committed the United States to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. While John F. Kennedy unfortunately did not witness this significant historical moment, his unwavering dedication to the space program played a pivotal role in the triumphant achievement of the first American manned space flight and the momentous moon landing during the Apollo 11 mission.

Unfortunately, on November 22, 1963, he was shot to death while in an open limousine riding slowly in a motorcade through downtown Dallas. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Half Dollars - Previous Designs

Flowing Hair Half Dollars (1794-1795)

Flowing Hair Half Dollar


According to PCGS, Half dollars struck in 1794-1795 depict the same design as contemporary half-dimes and silver dollars.

The obverse shows the head of Miss Liberty facing right, with flowing hair behind, LIBERTY above, and the date below. Eight stars are placed to the left and seven to the right.

The reverse shows an open wreath enclosing an eagle, with the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" surrounding it. The borders of this and the other silver half dollars have denticles. The edge features the lettering “FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR."

Draped Bust Half Dollar (1796-1807)

Draped Bust Half Dollar


The production of half-dollars resumed in 1801 following a three-year halt from 1798 to 1800. These coins featured the Draped Bust obverse design, which included 13 standardized stars arranged in a pattern of seven on the left and six on the right.

The new "heraldic eagle" reverse design, previously used on dimes, dollars, and half dimes, was now also applied to the half dollar.

This reverse design incorporated an eagle with a shield on its breast, clutching arrows and an olive branch, and carrying a scroll with the words "E PLURIBUS UNUM" in its beak. An arc of clouds appeared above the eagle, while a group of stars was placed below. The phrase "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" was inscribed around the design, but no specific denomination was included.

Capped Bust Half Dollars (1807-1839)

Capped Bust Half Dollar


In 1807 the U.S Mint produced the Capped Bust obverse half-dollar design.

In this new design, Liberty faces left, sporting a cap secured with a ribbon or band inscribed with the word "LIBERTY," while her hair falls in tresses down her shoulder. The neckline of her cloth or gown is now low and is held in place by a brooch on her shoulder. On the left are seven stars, and on the right are six stars. The date is located below the image.

The reverse depicts an eagle perched on an olive branch and holding three arrows, with "E PLURIBUS UNUM" above on a scroll and "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 50c" surrounding it.

In 1838, the Capped Bust series was restyled slightly, and the denomination on the reverse, earlier styled as 50 "CENTS", was revised to HALF DOL.

Liberty Seated Half Dollar (1839-1891)

Seated Liberty Half Dollar


The United States Mint struck the Liberty Seated Half-Dollar coin from 1839 to 1891.

On the obverse, Liberty is depicted seated on a rock, holding a liberty cap on a pole in her left hand, while her right-hand holds a shield inscribed with the word "LIBERTY". Thirteen stars surround the upper border, and the date is located at the bottom.

The reverse design is similar to the previous type and features a bald eagle perched on an olive branch, clutching three arrows. The words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" appear above the eagle, while "HALF DOL." is inscribed below it.

Barber Half Dollar (1892-1915)

Barber Half Dollar


During the last year of the Liberty Seated half-dollar, the Treasury Department started searching for new coin designs. Therefore, in 1892 Charles Barber's Liberty Head design debuted on the half dollar as well as the dime and quarter.

Designer Charles E. Barber's rendition of Miss Liberty now faces right, wearing a Phrygian cap with a wreath of laurel around her head. The word "LIBERTY" appears on a ribbon or band above her forehead, while "IN GOD WE TRUST" is located above her. To the left are six stars, while seven stars are placed to the right, with the date located below.

On the reverse, an adaptation of the Great Seal of the United States is used, featuring a heraldic eagle holding an olive branch and arrows, with a ribbon inscribed "E PLURIBUS UNUM" in its beak. An array of stars appears above the eagle, and the phrase "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and "HALF DOLLAR" are inscribed around the design.

Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916-1947)

Walking Liberty Half Dollar


The obverse of the half-dollar depicts Miss Liberty walking towards the sun with her right arm extended, carrying a bundle of branches in her left arm and a starry cape flowing behind her. The word "LIBERTY" is inscribed above her, while "IN GOD WE TRUST" is located to the lower right, and the date appears below.

On the reverse, an eagle is perched on a rocky crag, with a pine branch growing from the rock. The words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" appear above the eagle, while "E PLURIBUS UNUM" is inscribed to the left, and "HALF DOLLAR" is located below.

Benjamin Franklin Half Dollar (1948-1963)

Benjamin Franklin Half Dollar


In 1948, John R. Sinnock, who was the chief engraver of the Philadelphia Mint at the time, designed a new half-dollar to replace the Walking Liberty motif that had been in use since 1916.

The Franklin half-dollars feature a right-facing bust of Benjamin Franklin on the obverse, with the word "LIBERTY" above and "IN GOD WE TRUST" below. The date is located to the right of Franklin's portrait.

The reverse of the coin shows the Liberty Bell, with the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" above and "HALF DOLLAR" below. To the left is the motto "E PLURIBUS UNUM," while a small eagle is engraved to the right.

This design fulfills the requirement of the Coinage Act of 1792, which stipulated that an eagle had to appear on the reverse of all silver coins.

Introduction of the Kennedy Half-Dollar and Composition

After President Kennedy’s funeral, a discussion began between the Mint, the Treasury, and the Kennedy family to honor him on a coin. And for that, the half dollar, quarter, and nickel were considered. However, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy believed the half dollar was most appropriate because she didn't want to remove another President from a coin.

At that time, Benjamin Franklin, the famous philosopher, inventor, and revolutionary, was featured on the half-dollar coin. On November 27, 1963, Eva Adams, Director of the Mint, telephoned engravers to begin designing a new half-dollar coin featuring President Kennedy.

With time, the half-dollar became an outdated denomination for regular use, yet it continued to be produced in significant quantities, although the number of coins minted decreased over the years. In 1965, the silver content of the Kennedy Half-Dollars was lowered to 40%, while smaller denominations were completely replaced by a copper-nickel clad composition. In 1971, all silver was removed from the Kennedy Half Dollar coins as the United States abandoned the silver standard for a fully fiat currency system.

The Bicentennial Kennedy Half-Dollars

The reverse has shown the Presidential Seal design except in 1975 and 1976. During those years, it depicted a special design of the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. The building is largely regarded as the birthplace of the United States of America.

Bicentennial Kennedy Half Dollar


1976 was the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Despite the fact that independence was not won until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the year 1776 has always been symbolic to the American people, so it made sense to create a mintage in celebration.

The obverse of each coin bore a dual date 1776-1976, and the Kennedy Half-Dollar reverse featured a frontal view of the Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

These Bicentennial Half-Dollars were minted in 1975 and 1976 in the usual copper-nickel "clad" versions, but also in a 40% silver "clad" alloy, same as on the 1965-1970 Half Dollars.

In 1971, the Mint removed silver from the half dollar, and the composition became copper-nickel clad.

Since 2002, the coins have only been made available to collectors through the United States Mint and sold at a price above the fifty-cent face value. The U.S. Mint has produced Kennedy Half-dollars for annual coin sets and other numismatic products since 2002. Regardless, the Federal Reserve may still order them for general circulation.

In 2019, a special strike of the 1964 Kennedy Half-Dollar in almost perfect condition sold at an auction for the record price of $156,000. Thus, we can clearly see some of these coins could be worth much more than their melt value.

Current Half-Dollar Design Specifications


Obverse Design: Shows a profile of President John F. Kennedy based on a portrait prepared for his presidential medal.

Obverse inscriptions: LIBERTY, IN GOD WE TRUST, Year

Sculptor: Gilroy Roberts


Reverse Design: Depicts the Presidential Seal. It consists of a heraldic eagle with a shield holding an olive branch and a bundle of 13 arrows. The olive branch symbolizes peace, and the arrows symbolize war. A ring of 50 stars to represent the states surrounds the design.


Sculptor: Frank Gasparro

Mint and Mint Mark

  • Denver
  • Philadelphia
  • San Francisco

Composition and Edge:

Cupro-nickel, reeded edge.

Other Presidents in American Coinage

Several other U.S. presidents have also been honored on different denominations of American coinage. Let's explore some of these notable presidents who have made their way onto coins:

  1. Abraham Lincoln - The iconic 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, is prominently featured on the penny, or the one-cent coin. Introduced in 1909, the Lincoln cent showcases a profile of Lincoln on the obverse (front) and the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse (back).
  2. Thomas Jefferson - Known for his role as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson appears on the nickel, or the five-cent coin. The Jefferson nickel, first minted in 1938, showcases a portrait of Jefferson on the obverse and Monticello, his Virginia estate, on the reverse.
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt - As the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt's portrait graces the dime, or the ten-cent coin. The Roosevelt dime was introduced in 1946, replacing the Mercury dime, and features a profile of Roosevelt on the obverse and an image of a torch, an olive branch, and an oak branch on the reverse.
  4. George Washington - The Revolutionary War General and Founding Father, George Washington is honored in the Quarter Dollar coin. His portrait decorates the obverse while the reverse has shown varied coinage programs from the U.S. Mint.
  5. Dwight D. Eisenhower - The former World War II general and 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, is depicted on the Eisenhower dollar. Minted from 1971 to 1978, this large-sized one-dollar coin portrays Eisenhower on the obverse, and an adaptation of the Apollo 11 mission insignia appears on the reverse to commemorate the United States' moon landing.

The inclusion of these presidents on American coins stands as a profound tribute to their pivotal contributions in shaping the rich history and progress of the United States.

Final Thoughts

Kennedy's remarkable contributions to the United States make it evident why he is honored on an American coin. He led the country during the Cold War and served as a courageous and inspiring leader.

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Mo Menezes
Mo Menezes
Researcher and Contributor

Murilo (Mo) Menezes is an attorney and tenured English professor. His passion for economics and coinage led him to the gold and silver industry where he writes in-depth articles about collectible coins; as well as coin news and investing articles...