Abraham Lincoln was the first "real" person whose image appeared on circulating US coins. The Lincoln cent was introduced in 1909, the hundredth anniversary of the year of his birth. Fifty years later, the wheat stalks on the reverse were replaced with the Lincoln Memorial, and fifty years after that--Lincoln's 200th anniversary, in 2009--the reverse was changed again. 2009 had 4 different reverses on the cent, commemorating four periods in Lincoln's life: the Log Cabin reverse, for his birth; the Rail Splitter reverse, for his early life; the State Capitol reverse, for his time in the Illinois government; and the Capitol Dome Construction reverse, for his presidency.
Tomorrow, in Springfield, Illinois, the newest Lincoln cent reverse will be released. For 2010 and beyond, the reverse of the cent will no longer be the Lincoln Memorial, but the Union Shield--commemorating Lincoln's legacy of preserving the Union. According to the Mint's web site, "the shield device is featured on frescoes throughout the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building by Constantino Brumidi, artist of the Capitol during Lincoln's presidency."
While I'm all for eliminating production of the cent, I like the symbolism and simplicity of this design.