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Odd Wisconsin Archive

World's Largest Penny

Wisconsin is known for a many things, but few people realize we possess the world's largest penny. That's right -- Wisconsin is home to the largest penny in the world, a monument commemorating Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb (1886-1956).

"Dr. Kate" was responsible for the health of residents in nearly 300 square miles of northern Wisconsin. She was a dedicated physician committed to providing the best medical attention possible to all of her patients, despite harsh Wisconsin winters and impassable driving conditions. The sick and injured knew Dr. Kate would make her way to them even if she had to snowshoe to their homes. They often paid her in firewood or vegetables.

Throughout her career Dr. Kate lamented that the nearest hospital was several hours away. So in 1953 she began fundraising to establish a hospital in the Oneida Co. town of Woodruff. Her initial efforts received an unexpected boost when a geometry class at the local high school expressed a desire to see what a million pennies looked like. They started a"Million Penny Parade" to satisfy their curiosity and promised to donate the $10,000 they collected to Dr. Kate's future hospital.

Students sent letters to family, friends, and neighbors asking for spare change. After Wisconsin newspapers caught wind of ther penny drive, contributions began to arrive from all across the country. The student project began at the beginning of the school year, and by summer had collected $17,000. But it didn't end there.

The "Million Penny Parade" continued to grow. A year after it began, Dr. Kate was an unexpected guest on the television program This Is Your Life. Her appearance on nationwide TV sparked another wave of donations. and soon organizers had $110,000 on hand. Their hospital is now the Howard Young Medical Center (which they proudly proclaim started with "just one penny"), and in 1988 the community created the Dr. Kate Newcomb Museum.

At the 1954 a Million Penny Parade, a massive penny monument was unveiled. This concrete sculpture reaches 15 feet high, weighs more than 17,000 pounds, and is said to be the largest penny in the world.

It is a great reminder of both the selfless woman who dedicated her life to caring for the sick and of the community that sparked a grass-roots fundraising effort with nothing more than a few pennies. In 2003, Woodruff celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Million Penny Parade with a procession featuring people who had participated in the original parade and "Dr. Kate Babies" - those who had been delivered by Dr. Kate herself. For more about Dr. Kate, grab a copy of the WHS Press children's book, Dr. Kate: Angel on Snowshoes.
:: Posted in Curiosities on October 23, 2009

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