Visualizing huge numbers can be very difficult. People regularly talk about millions of miles, billions of bytes, or trillions of dollars, yet it's still hard to grasp just how much a "billion" really is. The MegaPenny Project aims to help by taking one small everyday item, the U.S. penny, and building on that to answer the question: "What would a billion (or a trillion) pennies look like?"
All the following pages have tables at the bottom, listing things such as the value of the pennies, size of the pile, weight, and area (if laid flat). All weights and measurements are U.S. standards, not metric.
It's best to step through the project starting from the beginning, but if you'd like to just jump in, links are available below.
Every journey begins with a single step. So, to get to big numbers, you have to start small. Lay sixteen pennies in a line and you have one foot, stack them and you have an inch. Okay, so much for the small numbers - let's move up.
49,152 Forty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty-two Pennies [16w x 16h x 192 tall] - one cubic foot.
Three hundred pounds of pennies. Remember the stack of 16 pennies? It was one inch tall. Well, take 12 of those and stack them and you'll have a one-foot-tall stack. The cube above is made up of 256 of those one-foot stacks, making one cubic foot of pennies.
Remember this cube, since it will be the building block for all upcoming penny-structures you see in these pages. Now let's double it.
98,304 Ninety-eight thousand three hundred and four Pennies [ Two cubic feet ]
Doubling our 50,000 pennies to 100,000, we now have two one-foot cubes. Given, this wasn't a big jump, but now we're going to start climbing the numerical ladder by powers of ten. Ever wonder what a million pennies would look like?
1,003,776 One million, three thousand, seven hundred and seventy-six Pennies [ A wall five by four by one feet thick with a 9-inch cube stepstool ]
Say hello to our friend Graham. Now that the pennies have really begun to pile up, he'll be standing in for scale. Graham is about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and he weighs about 180 pounds, or about 35 times less than the 1 million pennies stacked besidehim. Next step, Ten million.
Since these cubes are mostly dense metal, their weight is impressive. One hundred million pennies weighs over 300 tons. For comparison, the largest living animal, the Blue Whale, weighs less than 150 tons as an adult.
When you hear talk of "billions" of something (dollars, miles, people, etc), it's hard to visualize. But up next, we have a visual for you - one billion pennies.
One billion, eighteen thousand, one hundred and seventy-six Pennies [ Five school buses. ]
Each of these blocks represents one 9x11x41 foot school bus - as seen below. If you were to stack all these pennies in a single pile, one atop the other, the stack would reach nearly one thousand miles high. For comparison, note that the Space Shuttle typically orbits only 225 miles above the Earth's surface.
Only in North America and the general scientific community is this number (1,000,000,000) called a "billion". Most European countries call this number either "one thousand million" or, in some cases, a "milliard". Enough international confusion, let's move on to ten billion.
Current estimates place the world's population at six billion people. The pile of pennies above would then be nearly enough for two pennies for every person on Earth. The U.S.Mint currently manufactures about this many pennies every year.
In the image above, Graham and his ten billion coins are now standing on a standard U.S. football field (360 x 160 feet) for further scale. Next up, the hundred-billion cube.
Current estimates by the U.S. Mint place the number of pennies in circulation at aroun
140 billion. Others have estimated as many as 200 billion currently circulating. Since the first penny was minted in 1787, until present-day, over 300 billion pennies have been minted in the United States. So that leaves about 100 billion pennies that have been retired by the Mint, lost down sewer drains, stored in jars, smashed by trains, or collected by numismatists in the past 200 years.
Now that we have reached the limits of what actually exists, let's move beyond, and into the Trillions.
One trillion, sixteen thousand six hundred and forty Pennies [ One cube measuring 273 x 273 x 273 feet ]
From right to left (to scale), we have the same old football field, then the Lincoln Memorial (yes, the one pictured on the back of the penny), then the Washington Monument (555 feet tall), then our cube of one trillion pennies, then the Empire State Building (1,250 feet tall), then the Sears Tower (1,450 feet tall).
One trillion, eight hundred eighteen billion, six hundred twenty-four million Pennies
New york's Empire State Building contains 37 million cubic feet of space (minus the antenna structure). Using our cubic foot of pennies (49,152 total), it's just a simple multiplication problem - 37,000,000 x 49,152 = 1,818,624,000,000 pennies.
Now what about America's tallest structure, the Sears Tower?
Two trillion, six hundred twenty-three billion, six hundred eighty-four million six hundred and eight thousand Pennies
Chicago's Sears Tower occupies 53.4 million cubic feet of space. Using our cubic foot of pennies (49,152 total), it's once again just another multiplication problem - 53,379,000 x 49,152 = 2,623,684,608,000 pennies.
Okay, enough with the buildings, let's take a giant leap forward. What would a cube of one quadrillion pennies look like?
1,000,067,088,384,000 One quadrillion, sixty-seven billion, eighty-eight million, three hundred and eighty-four thousand Pennies [ One cube measuring 2,730 x 2,730 x 2,730 feet ]
Here we have the buildings we used for scale back at a trillion, but they're now a bit dwarfed by our new cube of pennies. This is a quadrillion, or a thousand times one trillion. This cube is roughly a half-mile wide and would weigh an astonishing three billion tons.
1,000,067,088,384,000,000 One qullion, sixty-seven trillion, eighty-eight billion, three hundred and eighty-four million Pennies [ One cube measuring 27,300 x 27,300 x 27,300 feet ]
Now we've stepped up another factor of 1,000. One quintillion pennies. This many pennies, if laid out flat like a carpet, would cover the surface of the earth - twice. If you look hard, you can still see the Sears Tower and other buildings at lower right. Another way to see it is to realize that Mt. Everest (29,000 ft.) is only 1,700 feet taller than this 27,300-foot cube.
This is as far as we will go. Three trillion tons of pennies is quite enough. To imagine larger cubes, (stepping by factors of 1,000), just imagine cubes roughly ten times larger than the last one. For instance, one quintillion pennies makes the cube above - about 5 miles on each side. If you step up to one sextillion, imagine a cube about 50 miles wide tall and thick.
Thanks for visiting the MegaPenny Project. You can find further related links and a table of named "very big numbers" on our index page.