We discriminate against it. We separate it from others of more value. We group it together in isolated places. We discard it as almost worthless. We really just don’t want it around anymore.
What is it? The venerable American penny.
I’m guilty. I separate my pennies from my other change because I don’t want them weighing down my pocket. I put them in a jar where they sit, isolated from everything else on my dresser, forever. They are hardly valuable enough to even bother with.
But the penny has a long and proud heritage.
For over two centuries, the penny's design has symbolized the spirit of the nation, from Liberty to Lincoln. The penny was first authorized to be minted by the government in 1787, with Benjamin Franklin suggesting its original design. Paul Revere, a noted blacksmith, supplied some of the copper for the one cent coins minted during the 1790's. Over the years the penny has been an integral part of the American experience.
And although we look down on it now, did you know the U.S. Mint issued 8.7 billion pennies in fiscal year 2006? Or that the composition of the penny is 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper and there have been 11 different designs featured on the penny?
Since its beginning, the U.S. Mint has produced an astonishing 288.7 billion pennies. Lined up edge to edge, these pennies would circle the earth 137 times.
Some pennies are even worth something. The most "expensive" penny is a rare one minted in 1793. Only four are known to exist today and their worth is estimated at more than $275,000.
What’s more, we keep cranking them out like they have some value. An average of 1,040 pennies are produced every second, adding up to 30 million a day.
During its early penny-making years when it was the coin had some importance, the U.S. Mint was so short on copper that it accepted copper utensils, nails and scrap from the public to melt down for the coins.
The lowly penny at one time was also on the cutting edge. The Lincoln penny, for instance, was the first U.S. coin to feature a historic figure. President Abraham Lincoln has been on the penny since 1909, the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The Lincoln penny was also the first coin on which appeared the words "In God We Trust."
To this day about half of all coins produced by the U.S. Mint are pennies.
So when somebody tries to give you a penny don’t say ‘keep the change.’ Because, if for no other reason, the penny is an American icon, same as apple pie and Chevrolet.