On April 11, 1918, Representative George Francis O'Shaunessy (1868-1934), a Democratic Congressman from Rhode Island, introduces a bill to the House of Representatives proposing that the U.S. Treasury begin minting a 15-cent coin. The inspiration for the bill, which was purported to have considerable public and political support, is generally credited to Seattle motion picture exhibitor John G. von Herberg (1880-1947). At the time, 15 cents is the average price of a movie ticket nationwide.
Von Herberg, whose Seattle picture houses included the Liberty Theatre on 1st Avenue and the Coliseum Theatre at 5th Avenue and Pike Street, appears to have first proposed the new coin a year earlier, in 1917. When and where von Herberg put forth the idea is unclear; possibly he made the proposal in a letter or article to one of several motion picture trade magazines.
Although von Herberg probably made the proposal in jest, a groundswell of support appears to have developed for the idea. "The necessity for a coin to replace the inconvenient nickel and dime" was being felt throughout the country, reported the Seattle Daily Times. "Since its proposal the need for a fifteen cent coin has grown more general. [World War I] taxes and rising prices have forced many ten cent products to fifteen cents. Tobacco manufacturers are now generally distributing cigarettes in fifteen cent packages. Scores of articles handled in drug stores and department stores which formerly sold at ten cents or two for a quarter are now fifteen cents straight" ("15-Cent Piece Seattle Idea").
John G. von Herberg does not appear to have actively promoted the new coin, although he was shrewd enough to reap the obvious publicity benefits after the bill had been introduced in the House. Other film exhibitors from around the country took up the cause and organized a formal lobbying effort to champion the 15-cent piece. Although they, too, appear to have had publicity as their primary goal, a group of motion picture men secured a meeting with U.S. Treasury officials to discuss the matter, after which they enlisted Representative O'Shaunessy to introduce the bill to Congress.
Representative O'Shaugnessy's proposal for a 15-cent coin went nowhere, and died a quick death in the House of Representatives. But in the sometimes-outlandish world of motion picture promotions, it made for good copy.