What Are Pennies Made Of and When Did They Stop Being Copper?

Pennies are a common currency denomination in the United States and have been in use since the late 18th century. Originally made from copper, they are now composed of a zinc core with copper plating. This change in composition was made in the mid-20th century due to a shortage of copper, but when exactly did this switch occur?

The first U.S. penny was struck in 1793 and was made entirely of copper. These early pennies were larger than the ones we know today and were designed by Henry Voigt. The reverse side featured a wreath and the words “ONE CENT,” while the obverse featured a portrait of Liberty with flowing hair. Over the years, the design of the penny has changed several times, but its composition remained the same for more than a century.

In 1909, the Lincoln penny was introduced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. This penny featured a portrait of Lincoln on the obverse side and two wheat stalks on the reverse. The design of this penny remained in use until 1959, and during this time, pennies were still made entirely of copper.

In 1943, however, the United States faced a copper shortage due to the demands of World War II. To conserve copper, the U.S. Mint began experimenting with alternative materials for the penny. This resulted in the production of the “steel penny,” which was made from zinc-coated steel. These pennies were only produced for one year, as they were unpopular due to their tendency to rust.

In 1944, the U.S. Mint returned to using copper for pennies, but the composition of the penny was changed permanently in 1982. In that year, the U.S. Mint began producing pennies with a zinc core and copper plating. This change was made because the cost of producing a penny made entirely of copper had risen above the penny’s face value. This new composition has remained in use ever since.

Today, pennies are no longer made entirely of copper, but they still remain an important part of the U.S. currency system. Despite their low value, pennies continue to be used in everyday transactions and are often collected by coin enthusiasts. The history of the penny provides an interesting glimpse into the changing economic and political conditions of the United States over the past two centuries.