Bailey Finley Williamson grew up in Raleigh on his family’s farm in the 1870s and ’80s, driving Morgan horses for his father. The farm was dedicated to fruit crops, and it provided Williamson with an early introduction to finances.
Williamson’s father gave his son and his two brothers 10 percent of the profits for gathering raspberries in June, plums and peaches in July, and grapes in August. But Williamson wrote in a biographical note archived in the Alumni Association’s records that he and his brother never had time to enjoy the fruits of their labor and spend the money.
“By the time we got through it was time to go back to school, so we didn’t have time to run around on the streets,” he wrote.
So it makes sense with Williamson, who was one of the first 72 freshmen to come to the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1889, would be remembered for his contributions to the agriculture and financial fields.
As a botanist, he is credited with pioneering the use of cottonseed and tung tree oils in industries ranging from varnishes to automobile manufacturing.And as a citizen, he played a part in leaving an indelible image on money.
“[Williamson] who has rubbed elbows with some of the greatest figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries has succeeded in his ten-year campaign to make it mandatory that all U.S. currency bear the inscription, ‘In God We Trust,'” the Gainesville (Fla.) Daily Sun reported in 1955. The motto had started to appear on coins in 1864 and had been used on all U.S. coins since 1938, but not on paper currency, according to the Department of Treasury’s website.
Williamson, who left A&M College before graduating, apparently began his campaign in the 1940s, according to the article. He feared that countries who “do not trust in God die,” so he felt the need for the U.S. to officially acknowledge that creed.
In the mid-1950s, he started to write congressmen in Florida, Williamson’s home state at the time, about the matter. Once legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, there was resistance, according to the article. Aides in the Eisenhower administration claimed the inscription would cost too much and not even fit on currency.
But President Eisenhower approved a resolution in 1956 that officially made “In God We Trust” the country’s national motto. And in 1957, due in part to Williamson’s efforts, the phrase first made its way onto paper currency, appearing on the one-dollar silver certificate.