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  • Gloria Hoffner

President's Day Science

A Penny for Your Commander in Chief

It’s part of our everyday expressions, “A penny for your thoughts”. It’s commonly used to measure the tread in our tires. And when found face up on the sidewalk, is said to bring good luck. The penny is our smallest U.S. currency is the first coin made in America and is design was suggested by Ben Franklin. The name “penny’ comes from the British, who had a coin of the same value. Since the first penny was made in the U.S. in 1787, there have been over 300 billion minted with 11 different designs. Originally, and until the mid-1800s, the penny was 100 percent copper. In 1856, the composition was changed to 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel. Just a few years later in 1864, the penny was changed again to 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc and remained so until 1962 with a small exception. In 1943, due to a need for copper for World War II, the penny was made from zinc-coated steel. There were a few copper pennies also made that year. The penny changed again in 1982 when the composition became 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. Experiment: Bright As A Penny Materials: Clear glass, water, 1 ounce of lemon juice, soap, wash cloth, kitchen timer and two worn pennies. Process: Ask for two resident volunteers. Give one resident a soapy wash cloth and a penny. Ask them to clean the surface of the penny. Give another resident a penny and a glass containing one ounce of lemon juice. Ask the residents in the audience for a vote. Who votes the soap will do the best job cleaning the penny? Who votes for the lemon juice as the answer? After 5 minutes, which penny will be brightest? Start the kitchen timer at 5 minutes – The resident starts scrubbing and the second resident drops the penny in the lemon juice. During the experiment ask residents the following trivia: (add) Result: Time is up! The penny dropped in the lemon juice is cleaner. Why? Soap and water will remove every day dirt, such as soil, but does not restore the shine of a penny. The penny became dull due to oxygen in the air combined with the copper forming a copper oxide coating. This coating is removed by the acid in the lemon juice. Trivia 1) Who was the first historical figure on a U.S. coin? Answer: Abraham Lincoln in 1909 was the first historical figure to grace a U.S. coin when he was portrayed on the one-cent coin to commemorate his 100th birthday. 2) What words appeared on a coin for the first time in 1909? Answer: The Lincoln penny was also the first U.S. cent to include the words "In God We Trust." 3) Why did zinc replace copper in pennies in the 1940s? Answer: During part of World War II, zinc-coated steel cents were struck due to a copper shortage. 4) What special coins were created in 2009? Answer: In 2009, to honor the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, four penny designs depicting different aspects of the 16th President's life were circulated. 5) What is the meaning of the illustration on the back of the penny? Answer: The "Preservation of the Union", the reverse design is emblematic of President Abraham Lincoln's preservation of the United States as a single and united country, with a union shield with a scroll draped across and the inscription ONE CENT. 6) What artist drew the portrait of Lincoln seen on the penny? Answer: Victor David Brenner’s likeness of President Lincoln that has appeared on the coin since 1909. 7) Where does the word penny come from? Answer: It is based on the German “pfennig” and the Swedish “penning”—originally denoted any sort of coin or money, not just a small denomination. 😎 What is the official name of the penny? Answer: The American penny is “one-cent piece.” 9) What was the size of the original penny? Answer: The first one-cent coins were the size of today’s half-dollars and 100-percent copper. 10) Who designed the first penny? Answer: Benjamin Franklin reportedly designed the first American penny in 1787. It was known as the Fugio cent, it bears the image of a sun and sundial above the message “Mind Your Business.” A chain with 13 links, each representing one of the original colonies, encircles the motto “We Are One” on the reverse. 11) What famous saying is attributed to Benjamin Franklin? Answer: “A penny saved is a penny earned”. 12) What so visitors leave at Franklin’s grave? Answer: It is traditional to leave one-cent pieces there for good luck. 13) What is the cost to make a penny in 2016? Answer: It is an estimated 1.8 cents to produce each penny. 14) What image was added to the penny in 1959? Answer: The Lincoln Memorial was added to the penny’s reverse, complete with a tiny representation of the statue within. 15) When did U.S. military bases overseas eliminate the penny? Answer: In the 1980s, U.S. military bases overseas abolished the penny and began rounding all transactions up or down to the nearest five cents.

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