1 There’s no official “penny” in United States circulation. That term actually derives from the British, who make a coin called the “penny.” However, the official name of the U.S. coin that we Americans call the penny is actually just the one cent coin.
2 These first one-cent pieces were made from 100% copper and had a diameter close to a modern-day half dollar coin.
3The first English coin to be known as a “penny” was introduced around 790 A.D. by Offa, an Anglo-Saxon king.
Originally, the penny was made from silver, but in later times was minted in copper.
There are 100 British pennies to the nation’s pound, just as there are 100 U.S. cents to our dollar.
4 Benjamin Franklin, to whom we owe the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned,” designed the first one cent coin in 1787.
Called a Fugio cent, this piece depicts a sun over a sundial and the motto “Mind Your Business.” On the reverse side is the motto “We Are One,” which is encircled by a chain with 13 links, representing each of the original colonies.
5 The one-cent coin actually contains very little copper these days.
This follows a major change in the composition of one-cent coins back in 1982, when the penny (I’ll still call it) saw a reduction in copper content from 95% (and 5% tin and zinc) to only 2.5% copper, with cheaper zinc making up the balance.
6 It costs around 1.8 cents to make a penny today.
While the cost of making a one-cent coin had fallen dramatically in 1982 after it was first made from primarily zinc, metal prices have risen so in the last 30 years that it again is cost-ineffective to strike the penny as it is made now.
Multiple efforts to to abolish pennies in the U.S. — like what happened in Canada in 2012 — have been sidelined by some opposition on Capitol Hill.
7 The Lincoln cent was designed by Victor David Brenner, a Lithuanian-born sculptor whose initials can be seen on the coin as V.D.B.
The initials are famously on the reverse side of some 1909 pennies, along the rim on the bottom. After being dropped later in 1909, the V.D.B initials returned to the coin in 1918 and appear to this day as very tiny letters under Lincoln’s shoulder.