28. Nickel: Face Value

From religion to money to politics, nickel finds itself at the center of all kinds of awkward conversations.

Featured above: Spencer M. Clark’s notorious portrait, which changed American money forever.

Show Notes

I Think It Tastes Pretty Good: RE: Pumpernickel, I’m just going to quote etymonline here:

“dark rye bread,” 1756, pompernickel, from German (Westphalian dialect) Pumpernickel (1663), originally an abusive nickname for a stupid person, from pumpern “to break wind” + Nickel “goblin, lout, rascal,” from proper name Niklaus (see Nicholas).

Whoops: I accidentally left this choice bit out of the episode, which really ties a couple different threads together. Alas!

S’nick: If you grew up watching cable television, or even if you’ve just flipped through the channels at any point in the past thirty years, you’ve certainly stumbled upon the behemoth of children’s programming, Nickelodeon. In between the game shows and cartoons and endless buckets of slime, perhaps you wondered: Why is this channel called Nickelodeon? After all, “there isn’t a kid watching who knows what a nickelodeon is.”

Those aren’t my words. That was the thought put forth by Bob Klein, head of Original Brand Identity around 1980. A nickelodeon, of course, was a kind of movie theater for one that typically cost five cents per viewing. They were most popular around the turn of the twentieth century.

But that really has nothing to do with the TV channel. In Slimed! An Oral History Of Nickeoldeon’s Golden Age, network creator Gus Hauser explained: “We had an outside firm who counseled us on various names we could use. At the end of that session … one of the things on the list was Nickelodeon. I said, ‘Let’s do Nickelodeon.’ And that was it.”

It’s a surprisingly anticlimactic origin story for a channel that was built on bombastic voices and surreal animation.

Click To Read Transcript


  1. Smithsonian Magazine, A Brief History Of The Nickel. Daniel A. Gross, April 28, 2016.
  2. Atlas Obscura, A Treasury Official In 1866 Put His Own Face On U.S. Currency. Michael Waters, June 19, 2017.
  3. History.com, The Hidden History Of The Nickel. Christopher Klein, May 16, 2016.
  4. U.S. Department Of The Treasury, History Of In God We Trust.’
  5. Basic Books, One Nation Under God. Kevin Kruse.
  6. Politico, ‘In God We Trust’ Becomes Nation’s Motto, July 30, 1956. Andrew Glass, July 30, 2018.
  7. The Sydney Morning Herald, Welcome To Norilsk, A City Build On Slavery And Cold Comfort. Sergey Ponomorev, December 4, 2017.
  8. The Guardian, Hell On Earth. Nick Paton Walsh, April 17, 2003.
  9. The Guardian, Where The River Runs Red: Can Norilsk, Russia’s Most Polluted City, Come Clean? Alec Luhn, September 15, 2016.
  10. The New York Times, Norilsk Journal; Comes The Thaw, The Gulag’s Bones Tell Their Dark Tale. Steven Lee Meyers, February 24, 2004.
  11. The New York Times, The Lure Of A Better Life, Amid Cold And Darkness. Andrew Higgins, December 3, 2017.
  12. The Guardian, Stalin’s Legacy Lives On In City That Slaves Built. James Meek, December 29, 1994.
  13. Quora, What’s It Like To Live In Norilsk, Siberia, Russia? Artur Ampilogov, November 16, 2016.
  14. PeriodicTable.com, Nickel. Theodore Gray.
  15. IUPAC, The International Year Of The Periodic Table.

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