In 2007 the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio celebrated its 100th anniversary with a year of special events. In this special series of articles we will explore the planning that went into an exhibition, behind-the scenes tours, an anniversary dinner, a penny campaign and a major special event – a 100 Hours Celebration where the museum stayed open for 100 consecutive hours.
Penny campaigns are a fun and easy way to raise money for your institution. Anyone can run a penny campaign, but my museum had a special connection.
When the McKinley National Memorial was built from 1901 to 1907, the “pennies of schoolchildren” literally helped raise funds for its construction. In our archives we had several newspaper clippings stating what schools had donated, and in some cases even how many pennies were raised!
Back in 1901, schools from across the country sent their pennies to Canton, Ohio for the Monument fund. So we targeted every school in the country with McKinley in its name. We sent a letter to each school explaining what we were doing and why. We also sent letters to every school in our county.
We were amazed at how successful the penny campaign was! Kids who came on end of the year field trips had spent months collecting pennies in their schools.
One teacher had some of her kids come over the winter to measure one of the 108 steps leading up to the Monument. Next they figured out how many pennies they would need to cover a single step. They quickly realized, as their teacher had intended, that they would need some help from other classes at their school to make their goal.
In the spring when they had finally collected enough, the students held a presentation ceremony with the media and local officials present. It was a wonderful opportunity for an “inner city” school to shine in the spotlight.
To hold all of these pennies, we used scrap materials from around the building to construct an 8 foot x 4 foot wooden box with Plexiglas panels in the front. We put the penny box right in our front lobby. We calculated that the box would hold about 10,000 pennies per inch. We placed a yardstick inside so visitors could watch our penny collection grow.
We also printed a “cut out” label in our newsletter for local businesses and members to create their own penny containers to collect for us. I made a large map of the United States and asked each visitor to alert the Admissions Window if they were from another state and had placed pennies in the box. By the end of the year, we had received pennies from all 50 states!
And just in case you didn’t have any pennies but wanted to donate, we had rolls of pennies available for purchase! One staff member converted all the checks we received into pennies. She even took out quarters, dimes and nickels and converted those to pennies too!
In the end, we collected 1.2 MILLION pennies. We partnered with a local bank, who loaned us some coin counting machines to bag up the pennies. Brinks came with a semi truck and hauled the pennies away for us.
You’ll find most people are willing to part with a penny. They may even be thankful to empty their pockets and purses!
The next articles in this series will document more ways that my museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of the McKinley National Memorial in 2007.