The idea for the American silver dollar came from a Spanish coin which was made of nearly one ounce of silver. The American colonists named it the Spanish dollar and the silver coin became quite popular.
The first American silver dollars were minted in 1794, after the U.S. Congress voted to use the dollar as the main form of national currency. It was used along with the Spanish dollar even after the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Mint created silver dollars until the year 1803, and then ceased to make anymore until 1836 – the period of the Old American West.
The people of the Old West preferred the silver dollar to paper bills as they felt the coins held more value being that they were made of silver. In fact, silver dollars were one of the main forms of currency in the mid to late 1800’s, second only to gold.
The silver dollar was extremely important to the people of the American West. For those who liked to visit the saloons, it meant having a fair means of exchange for a drink rather than an unspecified pinch of gold by the bartender. It was appreciated by gamblers and river boat travelers, as well as by those purchasing goods from the local mercantile, for the same reason.
Ordinary folk were not the only ones to carry the silver dollar. Many of the Old West’s most recognized names used them as well. Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody and Geronimo were all known to carry silver dollars.
In the Old West the silver dollar was worth far more than a dollar is today. People were able to buy a pair of moccasins for $1.00. Compare that to what you pay for a pair of shoes today and those moccasins seem like quite a bargain! Your dollar would also buy you 50 pounds of flour, 10 quarts of milk, 60 pounds of potatoes, two pounds of sugar or five pounds of butter.