The word penny comes from the British ‘pence’ and its original design was suggested by none other than Ben Franklin. At first, the penny had a 95% copper composition, 4% tin, and about 1% zinc. It was because of this combination that the penny has a shiny copper color which most people associate with the one cent piece to this day. Less than 20 years after the first penny was made, however, the composition of all minted pennies changed to 95.5% copper, 3% tin, and 1.5% zinc.
When the first penny was minted in 1958, it had a similarity to many British, American, and Spanish coins. These original pennies, however, were not adopted by the general public until towards the end of the 19th century. Also, at some point during the 1920s, the price of copper increased considerably, prompting the US Treasury to issue smaller pennies. It wasn’t until 1942 that the amount of copper in a penny changed to 98% copper, with just 0.5% tin and 1.5% zinc.
3How pennies are made
It all starts with sheets of copper that are laid out, out of which the basic round shape of pennies is punched out by a special machine. Afterward, these blank metal coins move towards an area of the plant in which they are electroplated with copper, a process that provides the penny with a zinc body while keeping the outside copper coverage intact. At this point, the pennies are rolled through a passage which is a bit smaller than the overall size of the penny, a process which forces the penny’s edges to push up, thus giving the penny its distinctive lip.
The pennies are there sent to a stamping machine where the face of Abe Lincoln in stamped on them. Interestingly enough, the faces on all coins currently in circulation face left whereas the face of Abe Lincoln on the penny faces right. This is partly because of a choice made by the penny’s original designer, who used Lincoln’s face from a plaque done by sculptor Victor David Brenner.
We should point out the importance of a penny’s size, the diameter of which is exactly 0.750 inches (19.05 mm). A penny also weights precisely 2.500 grams and has a thickness of 1.55 mm. While the size of most coins remains constant regardless of which batch they belong to, the size and weight of pennies changed a few times throughout history. For instance, people can check whether they have a pure copper penny or a copper/zinc penny by testing their weight.