Ben Franklin, one of our founding fathers, famously observed, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” How much money would you have if you saved a million pennies? Investing a million pennies yields a ten thousand dollar sum. It would take you a long time to accumulate that many pennies. Read on for the intriguing history of America’s one-cent coin while you figure out how you’ll put away your savings.
What Gives Rise to the Common Name for These Coins?
Although “one-cent piece” is the correct term for American pennies, the common usage of “penny” begs the question: why? More than a thousand years have passed since the first coins were minted to represent a penny in a number of different countries. Penny, which has equivalents in various languages, originally referred to a coin with a nominal value of one penny.
Pennies in the United States are technically one cent pieces, but the nickname “penny” has stuck and is now often used for that denomination.
Penny: A Brief History
George Washington, as the nation’s first president, approved the production of the penny. Benjamin Franklin designed the first pennies, which had a sundial with the Latin word “Fugio,” which means “I fly,” and the slogan “Mind Your Business” on the obverse (front) side, and a 13-link chain signifying the original United States and the motto “We Are One” on the reverse (back) side.
The obverse of later designs typically featured a female figure representing Liberty, while the reverse had a variety of other patterns. The penny was also redesigned and downsized to roughly its current size with the introduction of the “Flying Eagle” design in the mid-1850s.
Remembering the 16th President
A new cent design honouring Abraham Lincoln on his 100th birthday was proposed by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. Lincoln was the first president to be honoured on a United States coin, and subsequent presidents have been similarly honoured.
Lincoln was honoured on both sides of the penny from 1959 to 2008. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, was shown on the front, while a profile of the 16th president was displayed on the back. The back of the bill was updated in 2009 with a new design that included a shield.
For the vast majority of its existence, the penny has stood out visually from other U.S. currency. Since the earliest coins were struck in pure copper by the United States Mint, they were a distinctive reddish copper colour. The Mint substituted other elements for copper as the value of the metal fluctuated, but the coins retained their distinctive appearance.
During World War II, the United States minted steel pennies instead of copper ones for one year (1943). As a result of the widespread confusion caused by the steel pennies’ resemblance to other coins, the United States reverted to using copper-colored pennies the next year.
One Very Pricey Coin
Due of its high cost, copper is no longer commonly utilised in American penny production. Actually, the percentage of copper in a penny is quite low at only 2.5%. However, even with that amount of copper, producing a cent would be too expensive. The production of a single penny costs the government 1.8 cents, making it the most expensive currency in circulation.
Ought We to Do Away with the Penny?
Since producing a penny costs more than it’s worth, there’s been some discussion about doing away with it. Some have argued that the environmental impact of zinc and copper mining, in addition to the cost of producing pennies, makes it worthwhile to do away with them. Pennies are more likely to be misplaced or lost than other coins.
Since 2008, U.S. military sites no longer use pennies and instead adjust pricing to the nearest nickel. Those who support doing away with the penny argue that the decision may be made by the entire country.