Happy Birthday Alexander Hamilton!

Alexander Hamilton turned 257 on Saturday, January 11. He was born in 1757 in Nevis in the British West Indies, and by the age of 11 Alexander was working in a local office of the New York trading firm Cruger and Beekman. He kept the paper work in order, handwriting copies of documents, book keeping, etc. He later said that this job was the most useful part of his education, because he learned about trade. He learned how materials were grown and processed and shipped, how money was made and spent, how good business decisions were made, and he later put these lessons to important work. This drawing shows Alexander at exactly 16 years old – perhaps a birthday present!

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Unidentified artist, A. Hamilton Drawn from Life, January 11, 1773. Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-11091 

He came to New York to attend school but he did not finish college. He had arrived in city just as the colonists were moving toward revolution and he was swept up in the fiery political atmosphere. He served most of the war as General George Washington’s aide-de-camp, his right hand man.

Alexander was 26 when the American Revolution ended, but he had not yet begun the work that would make him famous – helping to design the government of a new nation, the United States. In addition to being a part of the convention that drafted a new constitution, he became the first secretary of the treasury – appointed by his former general, George Washington.

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Charles Wilson Peale. Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), late 18th or early 19th century. Gift of Duncan C. Pell, 1841.2

The currency in the U.S. was a confused mess before the Revolution, and war had made it worse. All sorts of money was in circulation, produced by foreign countries, states, and even private companies.

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Unidentified maker. Spanish coin (2 Reales), 1789. The Susan Mount Collection, INV.13710.5

 To further complicate matters, much of the currency was worthless or fake. Trade was suffering, and we needed to repay our debts to foreign powers from the war. During Hamilton’s time as treasury secretary, he created a national bank so the country would have a place to keep its money, and a way to make loans and pay debts. He created a national currency, the same system we use today, and he established the U.S. Mint to manufacture our coins.

To learn more about this amazing founding father, visit our website from our groundbreaking 2005 exhibition. Take a quiz, explore a timeline, and take a virtual tour of the exhibition.

Want to make your own currency? Join us for our second annual family benefit party on January 25, 2014 – History Surprises! Create a motto for your coin, meet our Alexander Hamilton re-enactor, and join in many other fun activities. Tickets are on sale now!

 

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