The Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for the selection of the designs, including the portraits, which appear on paper currency. The portraits currently appearing on the various denominations of paper currency were adopted in 1929.
It was determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. This decision was somewhat altered by the Secretary of the Treasury to include Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War and is credited with promoting our National Banking System; and Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. All three of these statesmen were well known to the American public.
Treasury Department records do not reveal the reason that portraits of these particular statesmen were chosen in preference to those of other persons of equal importance and prominence. By law, only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on U.S. currency and securities. Specifics concerning this law may be found under Unites States Code, Title 31, Section 5114(b).
(see Coins and Currency)