Have you ever wondered when did pennies start being made? Let’s talk more about the history of the penny. This iconic copper coin has been around for centuries, with traces dating back to the origins of the United States. If you’re curious to learn more about when pennies first started being made, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The first official United States penny was minted in Philadelphia in 1793 under the authorization of the Coinage Act of 1792 signed by President George Washington.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the origins of pennies, key events in penny history, the evolution of the penny’s design and composition, and more. You’ll gain insights into how this lowly one-cent coin came to hold an important place in U.S. currency and folklore.
The Origins of the Penny in Colonial America
The penny, a small denomination of currency, has a long history that dates back to the colonial era in America. During this time, the British penny was the primary form of currency used in the colonies.
British Pennies Circulated
As colonies of the British Empire, the American colonies relied on British currency for their economic transactions. British pennies were minted and circulated in the colonies, allowing for trade and commerce to take place.
These British pennies were made of copper and featured the profile of the reigning British monarch on one side. They were an essential part of the colonial economy, used for everyday expenses and as a means of exchange.
Early Colonial Coins
As the American colonies developed and grew in population, the need for a more localized currency became evident. In response to this demand, the colonial governments began to issue their coins.
One example of an early colonial coin is the “Massachusetts Pine Tree Shilling,” which was minted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. This coin featured a pine tree on one side and the denomination on the other, providing a distinct currency for the colony.
Other colonies, such as Connecticut and New Jersey, also issued their coins during this period. These early colonial coins helped to establish a sense of economic independence and identity for the growing colonies.
Despite the issuance of colonial coins, there were often shortages of pennies in the colonies. This scarcity led to the use of alternative forms of currency, such as bartering and the use of other denominations.
Colonial merchants and individuals would often resort to cutting larger coins, such as Spanish silver coins, into smaller denominations to make up for the lack of pennies. This practice, known as “cutting money,” was a common workaround for the penny shortages.
It wasn’t until the late 18th century that the United States Mint was established and began minting its currency, including the penny. This marked a significant shift towards a standardized and unified currency system in America.
The Birth of the U.S. Penny
The U.S. penny, also known as the one-cent coin, has a long and fascinating history. Its origins can be traced back to the early days of the United States when the young nation was establishing its currency system.
The Coinage Act of 1792
The birth of the U.S. penny can be attributed to the Coinage Act of 1792. This act, passed by the United States Congress, established the first official coinage of the country. It laid out the specifications for various denominations of coins, including the penny.
According to the Coinage Act of 1792, the U.S. penny was to be made of copper and have a diameter of 0.75 inches. It was also required to have a design on one side, with the word “Liberty” and the year of minting. The other side was to bear an image of an eagle.
The act also established the United States Mint, which was responsible for producing the country’s coins. The first mint facility was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it began operations in 1793.
The First Official U.S. Pennies in 1793
The first official U.S. pennies were minted in 1793. These coins, known as the “Chain Cent” and the “Wreath Cent,” featured different designs on the front and back.
The Chain Cent, as the name suggests, depicted a chain on the front of the coin, symbolizing the unity of the states. However, this design was met with some controversy and criticism, as it was seen by some as a symbol of slavery.
As a result, the Chain Cent was only produced for a short period.
The Wreath Cent, which replaced the Chain Cent, featured a wreath on the front of the coin. This design was more widely accepted and remained in circulation until 1796.
Over the years, the design of the U.S. penny has undergone several changes, reflecting the evolving cultural and historical context of the United States. Today, the penny continues to be an important part of American currency, despite debates about its value and usefulness in modern society.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the U.S. penny, you can visit the official website of the United States Mint.
Key Developments in 19th-Century Penny History
Composition Changes in the 1800s
During the 19th century, there were several significant changes in the composition of pennies. Before this time, pennies were typically made of pure copper. However, due to rising costs and a shortage of copper, alternative materials were explored.
In 1857, the U.S. Mint introduced the Flying Eagle cent, which was made of 88% copper and 12% nickel. This marked the first time that a penny was made with a different composition than pure copper.
Later in the century, the composition of pennies continued to evolve. In 1864, the U.S. Mint began producing pennies made of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This change was driven by the need to conserve copper during the Civil War.
These new pennies were known as “Indian Head” pennies, and they remained in circulation until 1909.
The Indian Head Penny (1859-1909)
The Indian Head penny, designed by James B. Longacre, was first minted in 1859 and remained in production until 1909. It featured a portrait of Lady Liberty wearing a headdress adorned with feathers, which led to the coin being commonly referred to as the “Indian Head” penny.
The reverse side of the coin displayed a wreath encircling the words “ONE CENT.”
The Indian Head penny was significant not only for its design but also for its composition. As mentioned earlier, it was made of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This composition gave the penny a distinct reddish-brown color and made it more durable than its predecessors.
The Lincoln Penny (1909-Present)
In 1909, the U.S. Mint introduced the Lincoln penny to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The design, created by Victor David Brenner, featured a portrait of Lincoln on the obverse side and two wheat ears on the reverse side. This design became known as the “Wheat Penny.”
From 1909 to 1942, the Lincoln penny was made of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc, similar to the Indian Head penny. However, during World War II, the composition of the penny changed once again. From 1943 to 1945, due to the demand for copper in the war effort, pennies were made of zinc-coated steel.
These steel pennies were often mistaken for dimes due to their silver appearance.
After the war, the composition of the penny returned to copper. However, in 1982, the U.S. Mint made another significant change. Pennies minted after 1982 are made of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, giving them a lighter weight and a different appearance compared to earlier pennies.
Today, the Lincoln penny remains in circulation and continues to be an iconic symbol of American currency. While its composition has changed over the years, the penny’s enduring presence serves as a reminder of the rich history and evolution of our currency.
Changes to the Penny in the 20th and 21st Centuries
The penny, also known as the one-cent coin, has gone through several changes throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. These changes include the introduction of steel pennies during World War II, the switch to zinc pennies in 1982, and ongoing debates about the future of this iconic coin.
Steel Pennies of World War II
During World War II, copper was in high demand for military purposes, leading to a scarcity of the metal for penny production. As a result, the United States Mint made a temporary change and began producing pennies using steel coated with zinc.
These steel pennies were only minted in 1943 and were intended to conserve copper for the war effort.
However, the steel pennies had some drawbacks. They were prone to rusting and were often mistaken for dimes due to their silver appearance. To avoid confusion, the mint resumed copper penny production in 1944.
The Zinc Penny Introduced in 1982
In 1982, another significant change was made to the penny. The composition of the coin was switched from predominantly copper to primarily zinc. The new penny consisted of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, with copper plating to maintain its familiar appearance.
This change was driven by rising copper prices, as the cost of producing a copper penny had exceeded its face value. By using zinc, the U.S. Mint was able to reduce production costs while still maintaining the penny’s visual integrity.
Debating the Penny’s Future
In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate about the future of the penny. Some argue that the penny has become obsolete and should be eliminated from circulation due to its low value and the cost of production.
According to a study by the U.S. Mint, it costs around 2 cents to produce a single penny.
On the other hand, proponents of the penny argue that it holds sentimental value and plays a symbolic role in American culture. They believe that eliminating the penny would disrupt the cash system and lead to rounding up prices, potentially affecting consumers.
As of now, the penny remains in circulation, but the debate continues. Whether the penny will undergo further changes or eventually be phased out entirely is yet to be determined. For more information on this topic, you can visit the U.S. Mint website.
When Did Pennies Start Being Made – Conclusion
In conclusion, the iconic penny has been around for centuries, dating back to the colonial era. While Britain originally supplied pennies to the American colonies, coin shortages led the early U.S. to begin minting its pennies starting in 1793.
The penny has undergone many design and composition changes over the years, but it endures as an important part of our currency system. Understanding the origins and evolution of the penny provides fascinating insights into the history of American numismatics and commerce.