Initially, Sacagawea was to be the figure of Liberty, depicted as a Native American woman and inspired by the story of Sacagawea. During the design competition, the "liberty" portion of the design specification seemed to fade away, and most of the acceptable designs dropped liberty from the design all together, focusing completely on the story of Sacagawea.
In accordance with the United States $1 Coin Act of 1997, Sacagawea dollars began being issued in 2000. The Sacagawea was to replace the unpopular Susan B. Anthony Dollars, which were often confused with, and were very similar in look and feel, to quarter dollars. In an effort to remove this confusion and to create a popular new coin, the United States $1 Coin Act of 1997 specified that the Sacagawea Dollar was to be gold in color and that it have a smooth edge like that of the Jefferson Nickel.
In spite of heavy promotion by the government, these coins have been almost as unpopular with the public as the Susan B. Anthony Dollar. Demand for the Sacagawea Dollars was so low that production of the dollars for circulation was halted on March 31, 2002. Sacagawea Dollars are still being minted in small quantities for collectors. The $1 dollar coins are available from banks and automated vending machines but are rarely used by merchants. As a result, the coins tend to be returned to the banks almost as fast as the banks give them out.
Although the Sacagawea Dollar has had a hard time finding popularity in the United States, it is very popular in Ecuador and some other foreign countries that have made the United States Dollar their currency. An estimated, 500 million coins, or roughly half the Sacagawea Dollars that have been minted, are in use in Ecuador, El Salvador and other non US countries.
In 2009, the United States Mint began issuing $1 coins featuring designs celebrating the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the history and development of the United States. The obverse design remains the central figure of the "Sacagawea" design first produced in 2000. The reverse design changes each year to celebrate an important contribution of Indian tribes, or individual Native Americans, and contain the inscriptions '$1' and 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA'. Like the Presidential $1 Coins, the Native American $1 Coins maintain their distinctive edge and golden color and feature edge-lettering of the year, mint mark and 'E PLURIBUS UNUM'.
The 2009 Native American $1 Coin reverse features a Native American woman planting seeds in a field of corn, beans and squash and the legend 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' and the denomination '$1'.
The Native American $1 coins will be issued until the conclusion of the Presidential $1 Coin Program, to the maximum extent practicable, in chronological order of the events or lives of the persons being featured on the reverse design. In general, five distinct $1 coins will be issued each year -- four Presidential $1 Coins and one Native American $1 Coin. After the completion of the Presidential $1 Coin Program, the Native American $1 Coin Program will continue, featuring designs in any order determined to be appropriate by the Secretary of the Treasury after consultation with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the House of Representatives Congressional Native American Caucus and the National Congress of American Indians.
Sacagawea dollars were issued by Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints.