The steel penny is an interesting coin. It looks like a wheat penny, but it is silver in appearance. Its existence is a product of metal shortages caused by World War II. The U.S. minted the coin for one year.
World War II and Copper
The need for copper for munitions production in World War II created a major shortage. To help ease the shortage, a steel penny was minted.
The 1943 U.S. Cent
The steel penny lasted for only one year (1943). It is made of steel with a zinc coating and has a silvery look. Otherwise, it resembles a typical wheat penny.
The silvery look made it unpopular and was too often confused with the dime. People expected their pennies to have a copper appearance.
Collecting Steel Pennies
Over a billion 1943 cents were minted. They can readily be purchased from coin dealers. Collectors will want to find a coin from each mint (Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco). The 1943 copper penny, on the other hand, is extremely rare (only 40 were minted by accident).
The Lincoln Cent Today
The wheat penny design lasted from 1909 to 1958. The reverse side was changed to the Lincoln Memorial in 1959. On the the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, the year 2009 introduced a series of new pennies with four new Lincoln designs.