Copper: The Bactericide in Pennies, Cars, and Chocolate

by Kids Discover


We see copper every day in pennies. Or do we? Modern pennies contain almost no copper at all. For more facts on pennies, door handles, bacteria, cars, chocolate, and other things involving copper, keep reading.

Ancient History: Copper was one of the first metals mined and used, starting in 8000 BC, when it was used in coins and ornaments. About 5500 BC, copper tools helped end the Stone Age. And when people figured out how to mix copper and tin to create super strong bronze around 3000 BC, the Bronze Age began.

Pennywise:  From 1793 to 1837, U.S. pennies were all copper. From 1837 to 1982, the penny was 88 to 95 percent copper, mixed with nickel, tin, or zinc (except in 1943, when there was NO copper in most pennies). In 1982, pennies became 97.5 percent zinc with a thin copper plating. Basically, when the copper in a penny became more valuable than the penny itself, the U.S. Mint reduced the copper in pennies to just 2.5 percent.

On the Move: There’s almost a full mile (0.9 miles) of copper wire in the average car, and luxury or hybrid vehicles can include as much as 99 pounds of the metal, including all the non-wire copper parts.

Shiny Killer: Using copper for door handles and other fixtures in hospitals helps reduce the spread of germs. Studies show that copper kills more than 99 percent of certain drug-resistant bacteria. Scientists think the metal keeps bacteria from breathing, and it may even destroy their DNA. So they’ve started using copper for faucets, door handles, and other metal items that spread germs because they’re touched a lot.

Eat It!: We need copper too. But only tiny amounts. You can get all the copper your body requires by eating seafood, whole grains, nuts, raisins, and beans. And chocolate, too. Try telling mom you need chocolate to get your daily copper requirement. But watch out! She may make you eat liver instead — organ meats are also copper-rich.


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