In 1945, shortly after the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Vice President Harry Truman was called to the White House. He was greeted there by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who informed him that the President was dead. Truman was quiet for a moment, then asked if there was anything he could do for the family. The First Lady responded: "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."*
This summed up rather nicely the state of affairs in 1945.
In the midst of the general chaos occurring around the globe, the United States mourned the passing of who many considered the greatest President since Abraham Lincoln. Roosevelt, who the year before had secured his fourth term as President, was a highly respected national figure. Diagnosed with polio at age 39, he was also an activist determined to see this debilitating disease eradicated, founding the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, better known as the March of the Dimes, in 1938 as a fundraising campaign to pay for related research. A vaccine was developed for the disease in 1955, thanks largely to the awareness the President raised.
Very soon after Roosevelt died, legislation was introduced to place his likeness on the dime, in honor of his work. With emotions running high, it quickly passed (in a fashion similar to that of the Kennedy Half Dollar in 1963), with artist John Sinnock to create the design. The artwork was well received, and remains largely unchanged to this day.
In 1996, the Roosevelt dime celebrated its 50th anniversary. In honor of this milestone, a special change was slated to be made, though rather than a design upgrade, as with the Lincoln Cent in 1959, the dime was to be struck in a new location: the U.S. Mint at West Point.
West Point, NY, is better known for its military academy than its minting facility. Originally a bullion depository, it began coin production in 1974 and continued producing circulation strike coins until 1986, producing cents and quarters with no mintmark. It gradually transitioned from circulation strikes to commemoratives, including the 1996-W dime. It was only available in uncirculated mint sets, and was never released for circulation. Its relatively low mintage of 1,457,000 makes it something of a key in the Roosevelt dime series, with the 2014 edition of 100 Greatest Modern Coins placing its value in the grade MS-67 at roughly $75 USD, easily one of the most expensive clad, non-error dimes. For 19 years, it was the only dime struck at West Point and the only commemorative dime in existence. Even today, it remains the only clad coin with a "W" mintmark.
Then, in 2015, the U.S. Mint launched its March of the Dimes commemorative coin program, celebrating the 75th anniversary of FDR's pet project, by now grown into a massive organization dedicated to eliminating birth defects and infant fatality. The program consisted of a silver dollar and two commemorative dimes, including an uncirculated silver piece struck at the West Point mint, sold in a set and limited to 75,000 pieces.
Both of these coins are a fitting tribute to the man who graces their obverse. Their history, though short, involves crippling diseases, a powerful President, a mint and a military academy. It is a rich history, well worth a close inspection.
* Sid Frank & Arden Davis Melick: The Presidents: Tidbits and Trivia 1982, Greenwich House