Canada stopped making pennies back in 2012, following the example set by Britain and Australia nixing their lowest-denomination coins. Now, nine years later, the U.S. has finally gotten on board and will discontinue the production of pennies in the coming years.
Why the push to scrap the currency bearing our 16th president’s profile? Below, we cover why it makes sense to scrap the penny and offer a brief history of our longest-running coinage.
The penny is the oldest coin in U.S. history, dating back to its original private minting in 1787. This version was known as the Fugio cent because the Latin word “Fugio” — which translates to “I fly” — was inscribed. The Fugio cent was 100% copper.
In 1857, the smaller flying eagle cent debuted with a soaring eagle on the front and the words “One Cent” on the back. This penny also changed in composition, becoming only 88% copper and 12% nickel.
The “Indian Cent” debuted in 1859 with a Native American princess on its front and “One Cent” stamped on the back. Following the Civil War in 1864, the penny’s composition shifted again to 95% copper and 5% zinc.
It wasn’t until 1909 that the penny took the form it has today. In celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday, the former president’s profile replaced the Native American’s head. This was also the first-ever appearance of “In God We Trust ” on a coin.
For President Lincoln’s 150th birthday in 1959, the backside of the penny gained a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
To celebrate President Lincoln’s 200th birthday in 2009, the penny changed once again. Over that year, the U.S. Mint released four different designs commemorating the life of Lincoln.
Finally, in 2010, the design changed for a final time, dropping the Lincoln Memorial in favor of a union shield with 13 stripes and the words “One Cent” in a banner across the bottom. The 13 stripes on the shield represent the original states that formed the federal government.
The U.S. Mint will officially phase out penny production in late 2022, and it’ll complete its last batch of penny production on April 1, 2023.
But the U.S. Mint won’t let the penny fizzle, though. Instead, it’ll send off the coin with 50,000 proof sets that it’ll auction off to collectors. Bids will start at $179.99.
The penny is the longest-running coin in U.S. history, so why in the world is it getting the ax now? Here are some of the key reasons it’s time to nix it.
In the fiscal year 2020, it cost the U.S. Mint 1.76 cents to create and distribute every penny. While that was down from the 1.99 cents it cost in 2019, it’s still not worthwhile to continue manufacturing something that costs more than it’s worth.
This is one of the biggest reasons the penny is overdue for elimination.
To make pennies, the U.S. Mint needs copper and zinc. This leads to mining, which increases carbon dioxide emissions, further harming our already delicate environment. Eliminating the penny will limit the demand for these materials and the mining industry.
The U.S. imports most of the zinc used in pennies from China. In 2020, the U.S. imported a whopping $1.38 million in zinc from China, deepening our national debt.
Go to any store and find what you can buy with a penny. Chances are, you’ll find nothing. Even if you went in with a nickel, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to buy — except maybe one piece of candy at a loose-candy store. If there is nothing to buy with them, then why not just round up or down to the nearest nickel?
For example, if an item costs $1.98, simply round up to $2. If an item costs $1.91, round down to $1.90.
According to a Bloomberg report, Americans throw away an estimated $62 million in coins every year. Whether they end up vacuumed up, mixed in with trash in our pockets, or tossed in a wishing well, it’s clear we don’t care about our coins. Why bother keeping one as worthless as a penny?
After countless years of speculation on eliminating the penny, the time for its official end is near. On April 1, 2023, the penny’s production will officially end, leaving only those in circulation as remnants of an era when these copper discs had real spending power.