Urban Legends

1943 Pennies

The Legend

Ford will give you a new car in exchange for a 1943 copper penny.

Behind the Legend

In 1947, the Ford Motor Company began a very unusual sales promotion. Knowing that, because of war-time metal shortages, only a few copper pennies were minted in 1943, the company offered a free car to anyone who could bring a 1943 cent into a dealer. Within days the promotion was modified to specify that only copper pennies were eligible, since the U.S. mint had produced more than a billion zinc-and-steel cents in 1943 and had neglected to inform Ford.

The promotion was quite successful. Many people brought their pennies into dealerships to see if they had won a free car, and after finding out that their penny was steel were high-pressured into buying a new Ford with all the trimmings. To keep the ball rolling, in 1948 Ford announced that it would also give cars in exchange for 1922 dimes.

Because the promotion did so well, Ford never canceled it, and to this day a 1943 copper cent or 1922 dime can be traded for a new Ford (car must be taken from dealer's stock, and tax, license, registration, and options are not included).

This wasn't the first time -- or the last -- that Ford used collectibles to promote its automobiles. In 1917 Ford gave out new cars to anyone who could produce four special dimes that had "F," "O," "R," and "D" mint marks. And for the millennium, Ford celebrated the coming of the new century by giving away a Ford Taurus to anyone who was willing to trade in a collection that consisted of 2,000 quarters minted in each year of the 20th century (three people were each able to gather all 200,000 coins and swap them for free cars, each in a Ford-produced media frenzy).

To date, only one other company has jumped on the coins-for-stuff bandwagon. It is common knowledge that a 1943 copper cent can also be used as admission to Disneyland in California.

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