The back of the new coins look different, while the front looks the same, retaining the image of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States.
Millions of the new nickels have been shipped to the Federal Reserve, supplier of the nation's cash. They should start showing up in change in several weeks, officials of the U.S. Mint said.
"This marks the first time in more than half a century that Americans will see a new design on their nickels," said Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore, who showed off the new coins Thursday. "Take a look at history America. There is change in your change."
On the back of the new nickels, Jefferson's home, Monticello, is replaced with a scene that commemorates the Louisiana Purchase.
The back of the new nickels now headed into circulation bear the words "United States of America," "Louisiana Purchase" and "1803." There is an image of hands clasped in friendship — one with a military cuff to symbolize the U.S. government, and the other with an ornate bracelet to represent American Indians.
Above the clasped hands is a tomahawk crossed by a peace pipe. The images are similar to those on Jefferson Peace Medals, which were presented ceremonially to Indian chiefs and other important leaders. Below the clasped hands are the Latin words "E Pluribus Unum" (meaning "Out of many, one"), and hugging the bottom of the coin is the denomination: "Five Cents."
Fore said that 218 million of the nickels have now been shipped to the Federal Reserve. The Mint will make a total of 900 million of the coins, she said.
Another nickel honoring the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition will be released in the late summer or early fall, Mint officials say. Fore said another 900 million of this nickel also might be made, depending on the demand for coins.
"Americans will remember the important national events of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition for decades to come when they look at these nickels," Fore said.
The new nickels are part of the Mint's new Westward Journey Nickel Series. The design of the old nickels with Jefferson on the front and Monticello on the back was introduced in 1938.
Vending machines will be able to accept the new nickels because their composition — 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel — and their size remains the same, Mint officials said.