November 1, 2003

A Penny’s Worth of Thoughts.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 7:31 pm

Most mornings I take a walk for an hour or so shortly after I get out of bed. Today was no different. Like most folks, I engage in this ritual in order to help keep my aging carcass in proper working order. I also reserve this time to let my mind air out and go wherever it pleases. Then again, sometimes I will use the morning hour to focus on a particular thing – sometimes work related, sometimes not. Some of my blogs are born or take shape during my morning walk. In that regard, each walk is different from any other.

However, one thing is strangely consistent about my walks, and that is that I almost always happen on one or more pennies lying in the street or on the sidewalk. Considering that I don’t look for pennies, I have to assume that there are many more on the street than the ones I notice. Most often, I see them near a local convenience store, suggesting that patrons either lost the pennies (which seems unlikely, as they also would probably have lost other coinage as well), or they received them in change and just tossed them. I also see pennies on residential streets, where the most compelling explanation for their presence is that someone tossed them from a moving car, as if they were trash.

I always stop to pick them up, not that having an additional penny or two will change my life. Rather, I suppose I pick them up because I seem to recall a relative, possibly my Granny, telling me that finding a penny meant good luck. However, I also rescue them from trash status out of some difficult-to-describe sense of respect for the currency itself and for the work that people do (most people, anyway) to earn a penny. Tossing it, as if it were garbage, just doesn’t seem right.

Well, all that got me to thinking about pennies today. A couple mouse clicks later, I found myself reading all sorts of things about pennies. Here is a sampling of what I found.

Many argue that pennies have become essentially worthless. I am certain that these are the same people who toss pennies away. They urge that the penny be should done away with and that the smallest unit of U.S. currency should be the nickel. However, there are others, who argue that the penny, which in 1787 became the first authorized form of U.S. currency, should remain part of our currency.

Included among the reasons given for the retention of the penny as part of our currency is that people still “count their pennies,” which is to say that when the economy slows people count their pennies and cash them in. In fact, there is a demonstrated inverse correlation between the demand on the U.S. Mint for coinage and the state of the economy. When the economy is good, people tend to save their coins (probably not wanting to carry them around), resulting in a need for more coins in the economy. By contrast, in bad times, people break open their piggy banks and flood the economy with coins. Who knew?

If you’re still with me here, you may be interested in reading some interesting Penny Facts. Included among them are the following:

A penny is 19 millimeters in diameter and weighs 2.5 grams.

A penny is comprised of 97.5% zinc and only 2.5 % copper.

The U.S. Mint produces over 13 billion pennies annually.

The penny 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 penny was the first U.S. coin on which appeared the words “In God We Trust.”

The average penny has a life of 25 years.

Now, for the penny savers, here is some interesting information (with visuals), gleaned from The MegaPenny Project. For example, did you know that a billion pennies, if neatly stacked, would occupy the volume of five school buses?

And if that is not enough to dazzle you, consider this. If the cubic footage of the Empire State Building were matched by an equal cubic footage of pennies, you would be talking about one trillion, eight hundred eighteen billion, six hundred twenty-four million pennies, which would amount to $18,186,240,000.00. If the same were true of the Sears Tower, you’re talking about two trillion, six hundred twenty-three billion, six hundred eighty-four million, six hundred and eight thousand pennies, with a value of $26,236,846,080.00. Sounds like an interesting construction project for Bill Gates, no?

And finally, behind Door Number 1 is a million dollars in cash. Behind Door Number Two is an opportunity to receive one penny the first day, double that penny the next day, then double the previous day’s pennies and so on for a month. Which would you choose? The correct answer is Door Number Two, because by the end of the month you would have received $10,737,418.23.

All that came from one walk. As Dax Montana would say, “Just Damn!”

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