The Sense of Cents
Though it's not worth as much today as it used to be, the American penny has endured throughout history to become a symbol of the United States economy. With the venerable visage of President Abraham Lincoln (arguably history's most beloved President) looking out from the copper finish, the penny represents not only the perseverance of character and liberty, but hearkens back to a simpler time.
The Changing Penny
The penny has been around since 1792, though it has undergone a number of changes since then. Back then, the penny was made completely of copper. Today, pure copper would make the manufacture of a penny cost-prohibitive. As logic would dictate, a coin cannot be worth more in raw material than its face value. For that reason, today's pennies are made of a special mixture of copper, nickel, and zinc. The bronze coloring that results gives the penny a remarkably "copper" appearance, even if the total copper content is much less than it used to be.
How The Penny is Forged
While the penny may have changed over the years, the process by which the coin is made has changed very little. Certainly, in today's mints, computers and digital technology have made laborious processes more streamlined and have cut the costs, but the general process has remained much the same.
The mint prepares three models, made in turn of wax, plaster of Paris, and epoxy. The bronze metal mixture is then prepared by machinery, which cuts the metal first into strips, and then into round coin shapes. They are then sent to a second machine for the upsetting process, which gives the coins the slightly raised rim we are used to seeing. Finally, they are combined with the models to be stamped with the designs that give us Lincoln on the front and the Lincoln Memorial on the back (as well as the date, "In God We Trust", and so on). The pennies are washed, polished, and dried, and finally pressed with metal dies. The end result is the penny as we all know it.