Lincoln cent wheat reverse (1909-1958)When Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States following the assassination of William McKinley, he set out to reform the United States into a robust nation giving everyone opportunities while protecting what he felt made this nation great. One of Roosevelt’s reform was to redesign U.S. coinage that he called his “pet crime.”

Roosevelt hated the designs created by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber. In fact, Roosevelt had called Barber’s designs “atrociously hideous.” Roosevelt ordered coinage whose designs were more than 25 years old to be redesigned. Since Roosevelt was a fan of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, he asked Saint-Gaudens to help redesign American coinage.

Before Saint-Gaudens would finish, he died of cancer in 1907.

Roosevelt still wanted to redesign the cent but did not have any ideas. In 1908, Roosevelt was posing for a Panama Canal service medal that was being designed by Victor David Brenner. Brenner, an immigrant who admired Abraham Lincoln, suggested that he design a coin honoring Lincoln to coincide with the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday in 1909. Roosevelt asked for samples and agreed to Brenner’s design proposal.

Brenner designed the reverse of the with two ears of durum wheat, one the most prolific wheat grown in the United States today. Wheat is the United States’ most successful crop and largest agricultural export.

Not only is it a successful crop, but over the 50 years in production, the U.S. Mint has produced a lot of its own wheat with every cent it made.

If you think about it, all that wheat could make a lot of bread.

  • The seeds on the stalk of wheat is called a kernel.
  • On average, there are 48 kernels in a head of wheat and 15,000 to 17,000 kernels in a pound.
  • According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, there are 1 million kernels of wheat in a bushel.
  • Since there are two heads of wheat on the reverse of the Lincoln cent, there are about 96 kernels of wheat per coin.
  • According to the U.S. Mint, there were 25,980,000,000 (25.98 billion) wheat cents struck between 1909 and 1958.
  • To find the number of kernels of wheat produced, multiply the number of kernels per cent (96) by the number of cents struck: 96 x 25,980,000,000 = 2,494,080,000,000 (2.49408 trillion) kernels of wheat.
  • If there are 1 million kernels of wheat per bushel, 2.49408 trillion kernels/1 million = 2,494,080 bushels of wheat produced by the U.S. Mint.
  • The National Association of Wheat Growers claim a bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread or about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread. Let’s use an average of 66 loaves of bread per bushel.
If 25.98 billion wheat cents yields 2.494 million bushels of wheat where each bushel yields 66 loaves of bread, if the U.S. Mint all the wheat struck on every Lincoln cent between 1909 and 1958 would have produced 164,609,280 loaves of bread.

Don’t like bread? What about pasta?

If a bushel of wheat makes 42 pounds of pasta, which is about 210 servings of spaghetti, 2.494 million bushels of wheat would have produced 104,748,000 or 523,740,000 servings of spaghetti.

We’ll need a few extra meatballs for dinner!


  • The idea for this post came from Montgomery County Coin Club Treasurer Jack Schadegg during a talk at our recent coin club meeting.
  • Various sources were used to calculate and verify the production of Lincoln cents from 1909 though 1958.
  • The National Association of Wheat Growers’ website provided the capacity figure.
  • Lincoln cent wheat ears reverse image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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