Aug 2, 2009

The Lincoln penny is 100 years old today

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, the longest-running U.S. coin still in circulation.

The U.S. Mint had been producing one-cent coins since its founding in 1792, but the 1909 penny (which replaced the Indian-head coin) was the first coin on which a President's likeness appeared.

President Teddy Roosevelt commissioned the coin to celebrate the 100th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Most people were in favor of the new Lincoln coin. However, former Confederate soldiers were not happy about the prospect of carrying the image of Lincoln in their pockets. After all, Lincoln was the President of an “enemy country” during the Civil War.

According to a Time Magazine online report - pennies can often be more trouble than they're worth.

While a 1909 penny could send a postcard or buy a few eggs, in 2009 it can't even purchase itself: the U.S. Mint spends 1.4 cents on every penny it produces. "When people start leaving a monetary unit at the cash register for the next customer, that unit is too small to be useful," argued Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw in a 2006 Wall Street Journal article.

Arizona representative Jim Kolbe introduced the 2002 Legal Tender Modernization Act to Congress, which would have eliminated the penny. The bill failed miserably.

In response to the copper coin's declining value, some stores have stopped accepting it as a form of payment.

In 2007, a New York City man was so incensed when a Chinese restaurant refused to let him pay for his dinner with 10 pennies (along with other cash) that he persuaded a state senator to draft a bill requiring pennies to be accepted everywhere and at all times. (The bill was not passed.)

Though pennies may be more trouble than they are worth, don’t look for them to disappear anytime soon.