Cyndi’s Two Cents
The story behind a 5-cent piece
Like many people, I have a “change jar” where I drop pennies, dimes, and other loose change that I find in the bottom of my purse and in the pockets of jeans. I rarely take the time to sort through and look for rare coins or dates when I dump the change into a bag to take it to the bank, but one coin dropped and caught my eye: a 1942 nickel.
There are few things in this world that have been around and perhaps made the rounds of that 80-year- old coin. I wonder how many people from different walks of life have held that same nickel in their hand. How many held it in their hand when it was a freshly minted in 1942 and a more valuable currency than it is today?
The Manhattan Project, the code name for the American-led effort to develop a functional atomic weapon during World War II got underway in 1942. That same year, U.S. car makers switched from making cars to making war materials. Congress created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC) and U.S. sentiment towards Japanese following Pearl Harbor showed itself when Executive Order 9066 was signed into law, authorizing 120,000 people of Japanese descent to be sent to internment camps. War bonds were introduced in 1942. Voice of America began broadcasting.
80 years ago, the average cost of a new house was $3,770 and average wages were $1,880 per year. Farmers earned 57% of what those working off the farm made. A gallon of gas cost fifteen cents, a new car cost $920 and a bottle of Coca Cola cost a nickel. It cost three cents to mail a letter. Kellogg’s Raisin Bran was introduced. The original version of napalm was invented.
Jimi Hendrix, Harrison Ford, Jerry Garcia, Calvin Klein, Tammy Wynette, Barbara Streisand, and President Joe Biden were all born in 1942. The move Casablanca premiered. Walt Disney’s fifth feature film, Bambi, was released.
The world’s first nuclear reactor as built in Chicago. Instant coffee was introduced, as was Duct tape. The first computer made its debut at Iowa State College, now Iowa State University, in 1942. It weighed about 750 pounds.
In the fall of 1942, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture issued a rationing order for all farm machinery. Because of the Agricultural Deferment Act, implement dealers often could not keep pace with the demands for repair work because farmers were using worn-out equipment.
While so many men were called away or voluntarily left the farm to serve in the military or to take higher-paying jobs in war industries, women played a crucial role in growing the food needed here in the United States and on the war fronts. One estimate suggests that by 1942, the number of women in the agricultural workforce had gone from 1% before the war to 13%.
Draft animals were still used to supply more of the horsepower on American farmers than tractor power in 1942. That tide changed as the war ended in 1945.
Although the 5-cent piece I am holding in my hand is not as valuable today as it was 80 years ago, I’ll bet you a nickel I wouldn’t have taken the time to consider the events of 1942 had it not dropped to the ground.