Museum Column: Wartime cents

The Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia, this week, received a gift of a penny issued in World War II. Although some may have more value, this coin doesn’t have a lot of monetary value but sharing the story behind it is important.

 

It is a 1943 steel penny coated with zinc also known as a wartime cent. In World War II there was a shortage of everything including copper.

Copper was in high demand for wiring every piece of rolling, floating or flying equipment that went to war. The radio was a very new invention then and millions had to be produced and put into use — along with the wiring. Also, small arm shell casings were made of brass, which contains lots of copper. Most of the bullets had a copper jacket on them to keep them from fouling the gun barrel when they were fired.

Also, World War II came shortly after the Great Depression. Factories on the home front were being built, and entire cities were being wired for the first time. All that happened with copper and aluminum wiring, so there were several causes for the shortage.

As the coins circulated, they were exposed to moisture. In addition to turning the coin an ugly color, as the zinc coating wore off the steel underneath began to rust making it undesirable.

The steel cent is the only regular-issue United States coin that can be picked up with a magnet. The steel cent was also the only coin issued by the United States for circulation that does not contain any copper.

On another note, museum officials are gearing up for the World War II Living History Weekend set for Oct. 13 and 14. The event will begin Friday evening with a band and dance. There are plans for recognizing the best dressed.

Saturday, will include a recognition of World War II veterans during a special ceremony. A World War II re-enactment will follow. There will also be military vehicles and a military swap meet. Food. Crafts. Vehicles from the time period and a parade of vehicles. It will be free to attend.

Located at 53 N. Mt. Olive in Vilonia, the museum is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Also, special tours are available by appointment. No charge to tour. For information, call 501-796-8181.

 

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