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James A. Garfield 2011
Front of coin shows a bust of James Garfield, 20th president, 1881.

James A. Garfield was born in a log cabin in the wilderness of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831.  He later graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts.  He taught classics at a college in Ohio and then became the college’s president.

He was elected to the Ohio state senate in 1859.  In 1862, he was elected to Congress and served for 18 years altogether.  At the 1880 Republican convention, Garfield was not running for President, but was backing another man.  The convention was unable to select a nominee after voting 35 times.  On the 36th ballot, Garfield won the nomination.

On July 2, 1881, just four months into his term, President Garfield was shot in a Washington railroad station.  The assassin was an attorney who had applied to be an ambassador but was angry because the position was not given to him.

Garfield lay wounded in the White House for weeks.  Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried in vain to find the bullet with an electrical device he had designed, not knowing that the bed’s metal springs were jamming the signal.

On September 6, 1881, Garfield was taken to the New Jersey seaside.  For a few days he seemed to be recovering, but the wound was infected and he died on September 19.


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