History of the US Penny

The History of the US Penny

During the history of the US penny, this small coin has been through many changes. The first pennies were the size of modern-day dollar coins. The cents of 1793-1796 were called large cap coins due to the large cap embossed above the head of the person seen on the coinage. Originally, a silver coin, the penny began to be pressed from copper in 1797. The U.S. Mint’s official name for this coin is cent. The first penny created by the US Mint had Lady Liberty on its face. These were made of 100% copper and over an inch in diameter.

Recently, on a trip to a big city, I was waiting around for public transportation. I saw an older woman heading down the street, her head bent towards the ground. I noticed her because of the way she was shuffling her feet. As she turned the corner, you could see what she was busy doing was kicking a penny. It was comical to watch this elderly lady, intent on paying the one-cent a piece of her mind. Guess she never heard the coined phrase- find a penny, pick it up, all day long, have good luck. On the other hand, maybe it was on unlucky heads when she first spied the coin. The debate over the penny’s worth has been kicked about for ages.

Reportedly, Benjamin Franklin is responsible for the penny’s design. The multi-talented inventor and statesman was also quoted as saying, “A Penny saved is a penny earned.” These words were powerful incentive behind the penny’s gain to the buying public. We have Ben to thank for all those shiny and tarnished coppers that most every American has a piggy bank or jar full! There are about 150 billion US pennies in circulation.

Indian Head-
From 1859 to 1909, the United States Mint produced the Indian Head one-cent coin. James Longacre was the designer. The coin states United States of America with a feathered Indian head facing left. On the flip side, it shows one cent inside a laurel wreath. In 1860, the design was changed slightly, showing one cent in an oak wreath. Three arrows were inserted under the ribbon that binds the two branches of the wreath.


Wheat pennies-
President Theodore Roosevelt would initiate steps in the early 1900’s that would change the look of US coinage. He felt at the time that US coins were drab and un-inspiring. He wanted American coins to showcase the talents and might of the United States, a country that was blossoming into a world power. Also, Roosevelt felt the country owed its current existence to Lincoln who had led the country during it’s greatest internal struggle, the American Civil War. Combining these two thoughts, President Roosevelt commissioned Victor David Brenner to design a new cent that would feature an image of Abraham Lincoln. The first Lincoln penny was issued in 1909, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. This was the first US coin to picture a President. These pennies were also known as "wheat pennies" because of the wheat wreath on the reverse side. The motto, In God we Trust, appeared for the first time on a coin of this denomination. With the exception of a few changes including deletions and inclusions of Victor Brenner’s initials, the obverse has not significantly changed in over 100 years.

In the history of the US penny, this coin has weathered two world conflicts. During World War II, metals were denied to the Mint for the duration of the war. After much deliberation, zinc-coated steel was chosen as the best in a limited range of suitable materials.


40 1943 copper-alloy cents are known to remain in existence. Coin experts speculate that they were struck by accident when copper-alloy 1-cent blanks remained in the press hopper when production began on the new steel pennies. A 1943 copper cent was first offered for sale in 1958, bringing more than $40,000. A subsequent piece sold for $10,000 at an ANA convention in 1981. The highest amount paid for a 1943 copper cent was $82,500 in 1996.

The easiest way to determine if a 1943, one cent is made of steel, and not copper, is to use a magnet. If it sticks to the magnet, the penny is worth about 50 cents. If it does not stick, the coin might be of copper and should be authenticated by a coin expert.

Lincoln Memorial-
The Lincoln penny took on a new look when the mint reworked the backside of the coin to include the Lincoln Memorial. This was to mark the 150th birthday celebration of our great President.



The 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial Penny
The mint made another change in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Lincoln penny. To honor the event, the U.S. Mint introduced four rotating designs depicting different aspects of Lincoln’s life. These scenes will replace the engraving of the Lincoln Memorial on the “tails” side of the coin. The famous Lincoln bust remains on the “heads” side. The four scenes are his birth and childhood in Kentucky, his formative years in Indiana, his professional career in Illinois, and his presidency in Washington, DC.



2010 and Beyond
In 2010 The United States began issuing pennies with a new design on the reverse (tails side). This design was created by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Associate Designer Lyndall Bass, and sculpted by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna. It depicts a shield with thirteen vertical stripes and bearing the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. A banner across the front reads ONE CENT.

The style of the shield calls to mind an artistic style that was popular during the Civil War era, when President Lincoln preserved the splintering Union and set the United States back on the path to being healthy and whole again. The design contains symbolism that is important to Americans, including the 13 stripes to represent the 13 original colonies. The stripes support a horizontal bar bearing the motto that means "out of many, one," and which represent the federal government unifying the colonies together.

This reverse design began appearing on pennies dated 2010, and is expected to remain in place for at least 25 years or until the One Cent coin type is abolished in the United States. Currently, there are no firm plans to do away with the penny. The obverse, or "heads" side, will remain the same as it has been since 1909, bearing the portrait of Abraham Lincoln designed by Victor David Brenner.

I hope you have found this history of the US penny worthwhile. To add to or begin your valuable penny collection please visit our website Buy Pennies .com


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