TIMELINES: What did the United States forge for the first time on April 21, 1787?

April 21, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Saturdayday, April 21, 2012


April 21, 1787, the United States issued its first official coins after a century and half of trying to solve the problem of having no consistent medium of exchange. Ships sailing from England had limited capacity, so coins were not practical cargo. A barter system, where value was measured by the labor it took to produce the item, proved inadequate and inconsistent. A Native American system of beads made from shells proved too easy to forge. In 1652 and for the next 30 years, colonists tried to mint their own coins, despite England viewing it as an act of defiance. These were crudely made and also easy to counterfeit, and ultimately England ordered the mint to stop. Some colonies began issuing paper money, though it was even more easily forged, causing massive problems with inflation as fake bills flooded the system. Even the British took to forging the bills, trying to sabotage the War of Independence. After confederation, Congress passed the Mint Ordinance to forge the nation’s first official coins. On April 21, 1787, the United States issued its first official coins, copper cent pieces called Fugio (“time flies”).


In the first quarter of 2012, the United States Mint forged 1.37 billion one-cent coins, an increase of almost 28 percent over the year before; nickel production increased by over 78 percent. The increases came despite the fact that it costs more to mint and distribute the coins than their face value. In 2011, the unit cost to produce a penny was 2.41 cents, and for a nickel it was 11.18 cents. Because of the costs, Congress approved the Mint to research making the coins out of other types of materials. For similar reasons, and because of the declined purchasing value of the penny, Canada announced in its 2012 federal budget that it was doing away with the one-cent coin for an expecting savings for the treasury of $11 million annually.