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June 21, 1788

New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, which goes into effect the next March. Article I, Section 8, Clause 5 grants the government the power "to coin money [and] regulate the value thereof."
April 2, 1792
The Mint Act creates the United States Mint to coin money. The act also mandates several items that must appear on coins: the year, the word "Liberty," and something that symbolizes liberty. On almost all coins, including the quarter, this symbol would be an allegorical female figure known as "Lady Liberty."
May 1792
The land on which the first US mint in Philadelphia will be constructed is purchased. This mint is the first building created under the authority of the new Constitution.
The Mint produces a small number of coins, but the intent is more to get Mint operations up and running and finalize the design for the currency than it is to actually get the coins circulating. Four 25-cent coins made in this year survive; technically, they are the first US quarters.
The Mint selects the quarter dollar as one of the units of currency that it will coin regularly (its small 1792 experiment notwithstanding).
Actual large-scale minting of quarter dollar coins begins. Quarter dollars are made of silver. The obverse ('heads side') shows a bust of "Lady Liberty" facing to the right. For this reason, US quarters up to 1838 are termed "Bust Quarters." The reverse ('tails side') shows an eagle that many accuse of looking like a pigeon. The design lasts only a year, and only 6,146 quarters are made.
Quarter production temporarily stops. Both the dime and half dollar had preceeded the quarter, and the presence of these two denominations (as well as Spanish and other foreign currency) reduces the need for quarters early on. There will be many more years during the early 19th century that no quarters are produced for this reason.
1804 - 1807
Quarter production resumes. Lady Liberty is the same, but the "pigeon" has been replaced by a more formal eagle that looks similar to the eagle on the Seal of the United States.
1808 - 1814
Quarter production again temporarily stops.
Quarter production resumes. Quarters show a new picture of Lady Liberty, facing left and wearing a liberty cap. The eagle is in a more natural pose, still with a shield in front and holding arrows and olive branches but slanted forward slightly like a real eagle.
Quarter production briefly pauses. Quarter production resumes in 1818, with the design first used in 1815 being used again.
Quarter production briefly stops. Quarter production resumes in 1827, with the design first used in 1815 being used again.
Three consecutive calendar years pass without any quarters being minted.
Circa 1830's
New steam-powered minting equipment replaces old-fashioned screw presses.
The new quarter's design is more or less the same as before, except that the motto "E Pluribus Unum" is removed and the quarter is slightly smaller. The lettered edge is replaced by the reeded edge (which is what all US quarters up to the present time use).
The obverse design is changed from a bust of Lady Liberty to the entire figure, shown seated. A new reverse is made, too, but it looks very similar to old one. The amount of metals other than silver in the quarter is reduced. These changes are implemented in the middle of 1838, meaning both the old and new designs exist from that year.
1838 - 1891
The "Seated Liberty" design continues for over 50 years, during which time only tiny changes are made. Arrows are added to the left and right of the date in 1853, removed after 1855, restored in 1873, and removed again after 1874. The folds of Lady Liberty's clothing, the background behind the eagle, and whether the motto "E Pluribus Unum" is visible are all also changed at one time or another.
The weight of the quarter is slightly reduced.
February 12, 1873
Congress passes an act to slightly increase the weight of the quarter, which is done the same year.
Many people confuse the quarter with the new twenty-cent piece, which also showed Seated Liberty on the obverse with an eagle on the reverse. (It isn't unusual to see the same design simultaneously used on multiple US coin denominations before the middle 20th century -- See more on this here.) The unpopular twenty-cent piece is discontinued after 1878.
Quarters from these years are called "Barber Quarters" after Chief Engraver Charles Barber, who designed the pattern. The front shows a rendition of Lady Liberty's head and neck that looks more like that of a Roman emperor. The naturalistic eagle is once again replaced by a heraldic eagle like that on the US Seal.
Partway through the year, minting begins of a quarter designed by Hermon MacNeil. Many praise the artistic merit of the standing Lady Liberty on the obverse and the eagle in flight on the reverse. But the public is offended by Lady Liberty's exposed breast, and the Congress invents some excuses about how the quarters stack, etc., to change the design midway through 1917 while trying to save face for all.
1917 - 1930
The "Standing Liberty" design, now with chain mail covering the controversial area, continues minting. Collectors refer to the original Standing Liberty quarters as "Type 1" and to this new design as "Type 2."
Standing Liberty quarters are slightly altered so that the date is in a recessed area; on earlier designs the date wore off too easily.
No quarters are minted.
A bust of George Washington in profile replaces Lady Liberty on the obverse of the quarter. The eagle ends its flight to perch on a cluster of arrows. Although the design, created by John Flanagan, was originally intended only for the bicentennial of Washington's birth, its production continued for decades. This design is the second US circulating coin to show a specific person (Lincoln on the penny was the first). When asked to visualize a quarter, this is the design most living Americans think of.
Although wartime metal shortages force changes in the composition of the US nickel and penny, the composition of the quarter (mostly silver with a tiny amount of other metals) remains constant.
Rising silver prices lead to coin shortages. As a solution, the Mint replaces silver with copper and nickel as the material from which quarters are manufactured.
1965 - 1967
For a three-year period, mint marks (those little letters that tell which mint a US coin was made at) are left off of all US coins, including quarters. The idea is to reduce the size of a "complete set" of all the coin designs minted in one year, so collectors would be less inclined to remove additional coins from circulation in the wake of the coin shortages.
1975 - 1976
A Revolutionary War drummer briefly replaces the eagle on the reverse of US quarters to celebrate the nation's bicentennial. Because quarters from both years say "1776 . 1976", it is impossible to ascertain in which of these two years any given bicentennial quarter was minted.
The quarter reverts to its previous (Washington/Eagle) design that was first minted in 1932.
Many people confuse the quarter with the new Susan B. Anthony dollar due to their similar dimensions, color, and edge. This makes the Susan B. Anthony one of the least popular American coins ever, and it is discontinued after 1981.
December 1, 1997
Public Law 105-124, the 50 State Commemorative Coin Program Act, is signed by President Bill Clinton, creating the 50 State Quarters Program.
May 29, 1998
Public Law 105-176 is signed by President Bill Clinton, authorizing the Mint to move certain emblems from the reverse to the obverse of the State Quarters to create more room for states' designs.
The 50 State Quarters Program begins. Minting of 'Eagle' quarters temporarily ceases, and Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut quarters are minted. [For exact release dates for all quarters that have been minted, view the database.]
Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Virginia quarters are minted.
New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Kentucky quarters are minted.
Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi quarters are minted.
Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, and Arkansas quarters are minted.
March 11, 2003
Treasury Secretary Snow approves a new procedure for creating state quarter designs based on the submission of written narratives, not pictures as had previously been done. The new standards go into effect for the 2005 designs.
Michigan, Florida, Texas, Iowa, and Wisconsin quarters are minted.
California, Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas, and West Virginia quarters are minted.
Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota quarters are minted.
Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah quarters are minted.
Dec. 26, 2007
Public Law 110-161 is signed by President George Bush, authorizing the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories Quarters Program, a series of six new quarter designs to be minted in 2009.
The 50 State Quarters Program officially draws to a close with the minting of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii quarters.
Under the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories Quarters Program, six new quarters are minted recognizing the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Current plans call for the quarter to revert to the Washington/Eagle design it had before the 50 State Quarters Program began.