Hey there, all my GI Joes and GI Jills!
To make up for not having D-Day broadcast this year, I’m giving away free 1943 Steel Lincoln cents to anyone who wants one!
If you would like one, email your name and address to:
and I will get one in the mail to you right away!
The Story of the Steel “War Penny”
The steel “war penny” was an emergency measure to save vitally-needed copper for the war effort. Just imagine how many electrical wires and cables were needed for ships, airplanes, tanks, and trucks! Even more, every single electrical motor, no matter how tiny or huge, had to have copper windings to work.
And if that wasn’t enough, copper was needed to make brass for ammunition. Everything from pistol and rifle cartridges, to tank and artillery shells, to naval cannon, and let’s not forget all the machine gun ammo for airplanes, anti-aircraft guns, and machine guns mounted on everything from tanks to Jeeps.
So, a lot of copper was needed. The U.S. Mint experimented with emergency measures to replace the copper in the penny, and came up with the idea of a steel penny coated in zinc. But, like all good intentions, everything didn’t work out as planned
Firstly, the new pennies were the same color as dimes, leading people to get shortchanged. (A dime in 1943 was the same as a buck and a half today!) The zinc coating started oxidizing almost immediately, turning the coins a dark gray (as you can see above). The zinc didn’t completely protect the pennies, meaning that any that were exposed to water or dampness began rusting.
But worst of all, the new steel war pennies were magnetic. That meant that vending machines were rejecting them, including the subway turnstiles.
The public uproar was such that the U.S. Mint rushed to find alternatives for their alternative of steel. In a bit of early large-scale recycling, it was found that millions of empty artillery shells were piling up in training camps all over America. They couldn’t be reused, since there was no way to know if they could withstand the blast of another gunpowder charge, and there was no spare manufacturing capacity to devote to melting them down and reusing the brass (also, dumping hundreds of artillery shell casings that might include some duds into a giant smelting vat was not considered a wise course of action.)
For the Mint however, this was a great find! After making sure that the military had cleaned the insides of the shell casings out, the Mint began melting them down to make new Lincoln cents by the end of 1943. These “shell casing” or “brass” pennies were made from 1944 through 1946. They will look a bit brighter, when compared to cents made prior to 1943 and after 1946, and sometimes have faint tracings of green or blue from microscopic bits of explosive residue that made it into the melting pot at the Mint.