The first nickel coinage struck was the three cent nickel piece. They were minted to replace the three cent silver coinage and were struck exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint from 1865 to 1889.

The Act of May 16, 1866, made possible the striking of the shield nickel. A type with rays extending between the stars on the reverse was minted for two years, 1866 and 1867. Later in 1867, the rays were eliminated and striking of the shield nickel continued through 1883.

1883 saw a design change to that of the "Liberty Head" type. The first year of issue was minted in two types, the without cents and the with cents. Cents was added to eliminate the practice of gold-plating the without cents type and selling them as five dollar gold pieces. Liberty Nickels were minted from 1883 to 1913. Only FIVE 1913 Liberty Nickels were struck and all were originally owned by Col. E. H. R. Green. These have been dispersed and are now in individual collections. The 1913 was not a regular issue and was never placed into circulation.

Production of the Buffalo nickel started in 1913. Its first year of issue saw two types: the first showing the bison on a mound and the second with the base redesigned to a thinner, straight line. Three different Indians were used as models while the bison was modeled after "Black Diamond" in the New York Zoological Gardens. Buffalo Nickels were minted from 1913 through 1938.

The Jefferson nickel was first minted in 1938 and is still being struck today. October 8, 1942 saw the issuance of the wartime five-cent piece composed of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. These war nickels were issued to eliminate nickel, a critical war material and can be distinguished by the larger mint mark placed above the dome of the capitol on the reverse. The letter "P" for Philadelphia was used for the first time indicating the change of alloy.