The idea of striking an image of a past president on a circulating coin in the United States ignited a controversy in 1909. The act of honoring the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth by etching his likeness into the American cent directly violated a long-standing tradition in American coinage. Many believed that the custom established by George Washington of not using the images of presidents on circulating coins should be respected. Despite this resistance, the coin adopted the image of Lincoln and also the initials of the coin's designer, Victor D. Brenner. The relative prominence of the V.D.B. on the reverse of the coin led many to criticize the design. The initials were removed shortly thereafter but eventually returned in a more subtle form in 1918.
The coin debuted with a reverse featuring a pair of wheat ears encircling the words, "One Cent" and "United States of America". The term "Wheat Penny" derives from this reverse design. In 1959, to honor the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, a new reverse, designed by noted U.S. Mint Engraver, Frank Gasparro, replaced the original. The new reverse displayed a striking image of the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by the words, "One Cent" and "United States of America." This reverse design remained on the penny until 2009 when four new reverse images were introduced to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Cent. The four designs each honored a different stage of Lincoln's life and were released one at a time every three months over the course of the year.