The Origins of Seven Popular Symbols
We’ve all seen these symbols, but where did they come from, and how did they start? Some of the answers may surprise you.
The Dollar Sign
The dollar sign is the most recognized symbol worldwide for money. Its origin is somewhat murky, however, as there are several theories on how it became an “S” with a line through it.
The most widely held theory is that it can be traced to the use of the Spanish peso during the late 1700s in colonial America. The peso, or “piece of eight” in America, was written as PS. It’s believed that over time the S was more often written over the P, which would make a rough look for the $ symbol. The $ symbol first appeared in print after 1800, and when the first U.S. paper dollar was issued in 1875, the $ symbol was on it.
Another popular belief is that the symbol originated hundreds of years before the 1700s, likely dating back to the 15th century in Spain. King Ferdinand II of Aragon had pushed the Moors out of Spain in 1492, and to commemorate the occasion, he added two columns to his coat of arms, which represented the Pillars of Hercules. In addition, a ribbon was added that wrapped around them. The coat of arms showed he had taken the Iberian Peninsula and the Strait of Gibraltar, where in Greek mythology, the Pillars of Hercules were located.
Spanish explorers brought back gold and silver from the New World after 1492, and the coins were stamped with the new coat of arms. This returns to how the Spanish peso was used in colonial America. The two pillars eventually became one, and the surrounding drape became the S.