The United States started producing pennies in 1787. Since their creation, they have always been worth one cent, but the composition of the coin has changed. Pennies were originally all copper, but as the value of copper climbed, the value of the penny sank, leading the U.S. mint to alter the composition to what it is today: 2.5 percent copper and 97.5 percent zinc. But even this new formulation hasn't fixed that value imbalance. In 2016, the penny still cost 1.5 cents to make. (The nickel, by the way, costs 8 cents to make.)
But even if it wasn't costing the country more than one cent to create their one-cent pieces, there are other reasons to abandon the penny. Consider the fact that in 1915, the penny was worth about 25 cents in today's money. Since the penny was the smallest form of currency, they didn't have today's buying equivalent of a penny (or a nickel, or a dime), and they got along just fine. So why do we need it today? There's also the issue of the time it takes to fish for pennies, and the fact that so many are left in dishes at the cash register and jars on the dresser. Harvard University economics professor Greg Mankiw says, "The purpose of the monetary system is to facilitate exchange. The penny no longer serves that purpose. When people start leaving a monetary unit at the cash register for the next customer, the unit is too small to be useful."