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Why Was The 1943 Steel Cent Made?

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - July 14, 2022

The 1943 Steel Lincoln Cent has patriotic roots. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

The 1943 Steel Lincoln Cent is seemingly becoming more and more of a curiosity to new collectors these days — not because these coins have suddenly been discovered. After all, they’ve been beloved by collectors for ages. However, the reason behind why these coins were struck is increasingly forgotten with the passage of time and as the collective awareness of the socioeconomic situation in the United States during the 1940s wanes among younger generations many decades removed from the period.

The Lincoln Cent was traditionally made from a bronze composition consisting of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc or 95% copper and 5% zinc. This had been the case since the first Lincoln cents were struck in 1909 — it was the denomination’s alloy since 1864, back when the Indian Cent type was the coin’s design of the day. However, with the outbreak of World War II and the involvement of the United States in this international conflict overseas beginning in 1941, certain resources became scarce. One of them was copper — a material necessary for making ammunition shell casings.

To this end, in October 1942 the United States Mint was authorized by Congress to forego use of the metal nickel, not only a key component in making the five-cent coin but also in manufacturing artillery. In short order, the U.S. moved to replace the copper in its one-cent coin to conserve the valuable metal for military use. Alternatives that were tested included plastic and glass, but a zinc-coated steel composition is what the U.S. Mint ultimately found was the most efficient and cost-effective material.

The 1943 Steel Lincoln Cent was struck to the tune of over 1 billion pieces across the three mints then producing coinage in the United States, including facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. The temporary metallic composition may have helped ration copper for the Americans fighting overseas, but it wasn’t good enough for many who were back on the home front, where complaints mounted about the new steel cents too closely resembling the dime or rusting after only a short period of wear. The public backlash against the new coin led the mint to making Lincoln Cents from reclaimed shell casings from 1944 until 1946 before resuming the normal metallic composition.

Article provided by PCGS at
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