The word “dollar” is associated with the United States and its currency system, but the word has an interesting history that began long before the US became a country.
The story of the dollar starts in 1518, when a rich vein of silver was found in a valley in Bohemia, then part of the Hapsburg Empire (then called the Holy Roman Empire, but the Emperors were all Hapsburgs by 1518), and now the Czech Republic. The place was called Joachimsthal, in German meaning Saint Joachim’s Valley.
This very rich silver supply resulted in the Hapsburg Empire minting a lot of silver coins, coins that were widely circulated because of their high silver content. At first called ‘Joachimsthalers,” it was soon shortened to “thalers.” The pronunciation of the word originally meaning “valley” was fairly close to the modern American pronunciation of “dollar.”
The most famous were minted during the time of the Empress Maria Teresa (1740-1780), and were large and valuable coins that came to be known as Maria Teresa thalers. The Maria Teresa dollars were very widely used, circulating well into the 1900s.
In Spain, the Hapsburg connection resulted in the Spanish 8 real coin, sometimes called the taler or tolar. In an era when there were few circulating coins, the 8-real coin might be broken into pieces—which is where “pieces of eight” comes from. It was also cut in fourths, which is thought to be the origin of the American coin the ‘quarter.’ In the colonies, the coin was called a ‘Spanish dollar.’ After independence, the young USA did not want to use pence and shilling and pound, so they adopted the Spanish ‘dollar.’
The coin was minted in Mexico (from Mexican silver) and circulated widely in the English colonies as well as the Spanish. The Spanish name was adopted by the young USA as the name for its currency in 1785. The word is an immigrant that traveled from Bohemia to Spain to Mexico to the USA.
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