Coin History

History of the Mint

"The Congress shall have the Power . . . To Coin Money."
(Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8.)
When the framers of the U.S. Constitution created a new government for their untried Republic, they realized the critical need for a respected monetary system. Soon after the Constitution's ratification, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton personally prepared plans for a national Mint. On April 2, 1792, Congress passed The Coinage Act, which created the Mint and authorized construction of a Mint building in the nation's capitol, Philadelphia. This was the first federal building erected under the Constitution.

David Rittenhouse

First Director of theUnited States Mint

President George Washington appointed Philadelphian David Rittenhouse, a leading American scientist, as the first Director of the Mint. Under Rittenhouse, the Mint produced its first circulating coins -- 11,178 copper cents, which were delivered in March 1793. Soon after, the Mint began issuing gold and silver coins as well. President Washington, who lived only a few blocks from the new Mint, is believed to have donated some of his own silver for minting.

Indian Peace Medals

In 1801, the United States began producing large silver peace medals for presentation to American Indian chiefs and warriors, following a diplomatic tradition set by the France and Great Britain. Lewis and Clark carried them on their expedition and presented them as tokens of peace from President Jefferson himself. Presented at treaty signings, the medals carried the face of the current president, with symbols of peace and friendship on the reverse. Though their importance as diplomatic symbols has faded, the Mint tradition of producing a medal for each president continues today as the "Presidential Medal" series. Bronze versions of all presidential medals are still available from the Mint.

U.S. Peace Dollars

The "Peace Dollar" was first issued by the United States Mint in 1921. The coin commemorates the declaration of peace between the United States, Germany and Austria.

No special congressional authority was required for the change in design of the previous silver dollar - which had been unchanged since 1878 - since the law permits changing the design of any of our coins no more than once every 25 years. The design of the "Peace Dollar" was selected by the Fine Arts Commission from models submitted by a number of prominent sculptors, and was the work of Anthony de Francisci.

On the obverse is a female head emblematic of Liberty, wearing a tiara of light rays, and the word "Liberty"; on the reverse is an eagle perched on a mountain top, holding in its talons an olive branch, witnessing the dawn of a new day; the word "Peace" also appears.

More than 190 million "Peace Dollars" were minted during the years 1921 through 1928, and in 1934 and 1935. All of these dollars contained 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper.

The last coinage of "Peace Dollars" took place in 1935. When production of the dollar denomination was resumed in 1971, the design was changed to bear the likeness of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Mint Growth and Expansion

When founded, the United States Mint Director reported to the President and Thomas Jefferson. Named an independent agency in 1799, the Mint became part of the Department of the Treasury in 1873, and remains so today.

Under President Andrew Jackson, three new southern branches were authorized in 1835 to complement the Philadelphia facility. These Mints -- in New Orleans, Louisiana, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dahlonega, Georgia -- followed the rapid growth of the south resulting from the discovery of gold there in the early 1800's. In fact, the Charlotte and Dahlonega facilities minted only gold coins. All three closed after the Civil War.

Similar Mint growth followed the settling and expansion of the West, which was also driven by the discovery of gold in California. Mints were opened in San Francisco in 1854 and in Denver in 1863, and a host of United States Mint facilities and assay offices were created after the Civil War in such places as Carson City, St. Louis, Seattle, Boise, Helena, Deadwood, Salt Lake City, and New York. Meanwhile, the Mint's administrative headquarters moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in 1873.

Current United States Mint Facilities

There are five United States Mint facilities functioning today including a United States Bullion Depository, whose functions are to fill the United States’ need for circulating coins, comply with the Congressional mandate for numismatic products and to safeguard and store bullion reserves. Each facility performs many different functions to ensure that all needs are met and all Congressional mandates are accomplished. The United States Mint headquarters, located in Washington, D.C., is responsible for policy formulation, administrative guidance, program management, research and development, marketing operations, customer services and order processing. The United States Mint at Philadelphia, the oldest functioning facility, located in Pennsylvania, is responsible for all engraving, manufacturing of coin and medal dies and the production of circulating and some commemorative coins. This facility and the United States Mint at Denver also conduct public tours. The Denver facility, like the one in Philadelphia, produces primarily circulating coins. The United States Mint at San Francisco, located in California, is responsible for producing proof coins for numismatic collectibles as well as some commemorative coins. The United States Mint at West Point, located in New York, is responsible for manufacturing gold, silver, and platinum bullion, proof and uncirculated coins and also strikes some commemorative coins. The United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, located in Kentucky, is not a production facility -- it stores precious metal bullion reserves for the United States.

United States Mint Facility at Philadelphia

This was the first United States Mint, established by the Act of April 2, 1792, and the first public building erected under the federal government. This United States Mint facility was built in the city of Philadelphia, because this was the Nation’s capital in 1792.

President George Washington appointed David Rittenhouse as the first Director of the Mint. Rittenhouse’s first duty as the newly appointed Director was to purchase a piece of land on which to construct the Mint. In July 18, 1792, he purchased two lots for $4,266.67. Over the next two hundred years the United States Mint at Philadelphia would physically move three more times to accommodate the growing demand for coinage.

The original facility was a three story building, the tallest building in Philadelphia in 1792, and became known as "Ye Ole Mint." After the land was purchased, construction soon followed and the facility opened its doors within a few months, initially producing 11,178 copper coins.

This three story building, the tallest building in Philadelphia in 1792, became known as the Ye Ole Mint. After the land was purchased, construction of the Mint soon followed and it opened it's doors within a few months, initially producing 11,178 copper coins. Legend states that President George and Mrs. Martha Washington donated their personal silver for the production of the half-disme. The presentation of what may have occurred was demonstrated in the John Ward Dunsmore painting "Inspecting the First Coins." The Dunsmore painting and the Tiffany Mosaics can be seen during the tour of the Philadelphia Mint.

When demand for coins outgrew the initial building, plans were made for a new facility. In July 1829, the cornerstone was laid for the United States Mint at Philadelphia's new facility which was located at Chestnut and Juniper Street. On June 1901, ceremonies marked the completion of the third Philadelphia Mint building on Spring Garden Street. The cost of the building and site was $2,000,000. The Spring Garden Street location was the building which originally held the Tiffany Mosaics.

The United States Mint at Philadelphia moved to its fourth location on Independence Mall in 1969 and it remains there today. Soon after the move to this location, the Tiffany Mosaics, from the third United States Mint building in Philadelphia, were installed in the new facility. The Mosaics can still be seen on the tour of the United States Mint at Philadelphia.

United States Mint Facility at Denver

This branch of the United States Mint was established by an April 21, 1862, Act of Congress after the Treasury Department proposed that a Branch Mint be established for the coinage of gold. The need for this new facility was because of the discovery of gold at the Platte River near Denver. The United States Mint at Denver opened for business in September 1863, as a United States Assay Office. Coin production operations at this facility began in the facilities of Clark, Gruber & Company - a private mint then located at 16th and Market Streets. The Clark, Gruber & Company was later acquired by the federal government for $25,000.

In 1874, Congress gave the United States Mint at Denver the authority to produce coins for the United States and some foreign countries.

The Denver facility became a functional branch of the United States Mint on February 20, 1895. The site for the newly enacted United States Mint at Denver was located at the West Colfax and Delaware Street. The site was purchased April 22, 1896, for approximately $60,000, and construction began in 1897. The transfer of assaying duties did not begin at Denver until September 1, 1904, and the production of gold and silver coins began in 1906. Although the United States Mint at Denver facility has expanded over the decades, today, the facility is still located at West Colfax Street location.

United States Mint Facility at San Francisco

President Millard Fillmore authorized the United States Mint at San Francisco Mint with the Act of July 3, 1852. The California Gold Rush of 1849 is most often cited as the impetus for this legislation, as the need to convert miners’ gold into coins became urgent. Mint Director James Ross Snowden was in charge of putting the new facility into operation after taking office in 1853. The demand for coins quickly outpaced this facility’s ability to produce them and in September, 1866, United States Mint Director James Pollock voiced his concerns in 1866, when he wrote "I cannot too earnestly urge upon the government the importance of erecting a new mint building at San Francisco. The present building is not only wholly unfitted for the large and increasing business of that branch mint, but unsafe, and unworthy the great mineral wealth of the Pacific States. The appropriation made by Congress should be applied at once to the erection of a building, which in architecture, size, capacity, machinery, and every useful modern appliance, should be equal to the present and future of California…."

In 1869, Congress appropriated $300,000 to purchase and construct a new United States Mint facility in San Francisco. The land for the new production facility was purchased on Fifth and Mission Streets. The cornerstone for the building that would become known as the "Granite Lady" was laid on May 26, 1870, and the building opened on November 5, 1874. The earthquake of April 18, 1906, destroyed a significant portion of San Francisco, with the exception of this new, Greek-revival structure. Resulting fires destroyed the downtown area, including many of the city’s banks. The United States Mint at San Francisco was the only financial institution still standing so it became the city’s depository for all emergency financial transactions. Coining operations resumed shortly after the earthquake and continued until 1937, when the demand for coins once again outgrew the facility’s capability. The United States Mint at San Francisco moved to a new location and began producing coins for the United States and foreign nations, but coining operations were suspended in 1955 and did not resume until the 1960s. In 1961, the Granite Lady, the second building to house the United States Mint in San Francisco, was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Former United States Mint Facilities

The 1849 California Gold Rush tested the capacity of the United States Mint at Philadelphia with the task of converting miners’ gold into coins. Transporting the gold from various cities to Philadelphia for coining was not only time consuming, but also hazardous. The overwhelming necessity to divert gold and silver miners to local depositors resulted in intermittent Acts of Congress that approved branch Mints in New Orleans, Louisiana, Charlotte, North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia and Carson City, Nevada. All of these facilities were tasked with accepting and coining the silver and gold from various strikes around the Nation. Although these United States Mint facilities are closed today, their functions were quite similar to those of the United States Mint at Philadelphia Mint between the years of 1838 and 1893.

President Andrew Jackson authorized The Act of 1835, created three of the aforementioned United States Mint production facilities in the South. In 1838, the first United States Mint branch facility opened in New Orleans, Louisiana and the facilities in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dahlonega, Georgia opened shortly after. When the Civil War began, each of these facilities was seized, temporary closed, reopened for the production of confederate money, and subsequently closed for good.

All three of the newly established United States Mint facilities were producing coins by 1838. Because all three were in operation at the same time, there was a need for mint-marks to identify which facility was producing which coins. Those minted at the New Orleans facility carried the distinct "O" mint mark, while the Charlotte and Dahlonega production facilities featured the "C" and "D" mint-marks, respectively. While the New Orleans branch produced coins made of gold and silver, the Charlotte and Dahlonega facilities minted only gold coins.

The production facility in New Orleans was the first of the three Southern branch Mints to be controlled by the Confederacy, first by the State of Louisiana on January 31, 1861, and later by the government of the Confederate States of America. On April 8, 1861, the Dahlonega facility was claimed, followed by the Charlotte facility on April 20, 1861. After the facilities were seized, coining operations was sporadic until all mandated functions ceased and were later converted to assaying functions by Acts approved by the Congress of the Confederacy.

At the height of the conflict, the Act of 1863 created a branch Mint in Carson City, Nevada to handle the enormous amount of silver that was being pulled from the mines in Nevada. The New Orleans branch Mint, also designated as a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest surviving structured that served as a United States Mint. Today, the New Orleans, Charlotte, and Carson City production facilities are public art museums in their respective cities.

Carson City Branch Mint

The Carson City branch Mint was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1863. This facility was opened to serve the coining needs brought about by the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the largest silver strike in the Nation’s history. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCollouch authorized a committee of three Nevada citizens whose responsibility was to find and approve a location for what would be called the Carson City Mint.

The cornerstone for the Carson City facility was laid on September 18, 1866. This facility was officially opened for coining operations and to receive bullion deposits on January 8, 1870. The coins produced at this facility carried the "CC" mint-mark. Production was temporarily halted from 1885 to 1889, and finally discontinued in 1893.

The Carson City branch Mint issued 57 different types of gold coins. In addition to gold coins produced at this facility, it also converted deposits into gold bars and shipped them to the United States Mint at San Francisco for coins. Coining operations at this facility started in 1870 and lasted through 1893 and although coining operations ceased at this time, the facility continued to function as an assay office until it closed in 1933.

This facility was sold to the state of Nevada in 1939 for $10,000, and the state renovated the property and in October, 1941, the facility was reopened as a museum and art institute.

New Orleans Branch Mint

The New Orleans branch Mint was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1835. The cornerstone for the New Orleans building was laid on September, 1835. Sickness and other delays prevented the facility from opening until 1838, and the first coins were produced shortly after its opening. Yellow fever was prominent in this area, so coining operations were suspended from July to November of 1839.

The coining machinery at this facility was run by hand until the first steam broiler appeared in 1845. Coining operations were in full force when control of the facility was taken by the state of Louisiana. During the possession of the facility by the Confederate forces it briefly produced confederate money until the Act of January 27, 1862, approved by the Confederate Congress, changed its functions to that of an assay office.

It reverted back to the control of the federal government on May 16, 1862, after Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase gave orders to take possession of the facility and its property. Coining operations at the New Orleans branch Mint were suspended from 1861 to 1879; however it continued to serve as an assay office.

Coining operations at the New Orleans facility resumed in 1879 and continued until 1909. It operated as an assay office from 1909 unit 1942, when it was permanently closed. At one time this building was used as a federal prison but today, the New Orleans branch Mint is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and it is the oldest surviving structured that served as a United States Mint. Currently, the facility is an art museum that is open to the general public and owned by the state of Louisiana.

Minting Foreign Coins

The United States Mint was first authorized to manufacture coins for foreign government in 1874 (Act of January 29, 1874), as long as the function did not interfere with coinage production for the United States. The first foreign coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint for the government of Venezuela: two million 2 ½ centavo and ten million 1 centavo denominations from 1875-1876. From that time through the early 1980’s, foreign coins were struck for more than forty governments – including Hawaii (1883-1884) before it became the 50th State of the Union in 1959.

Award and Military Decorations

The Mint once produced military decorations for the nation's armed forces, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Navy Cross. Currently, by order of Congress, the Mint produces gold Congressional Medals to be presented as a symbol of national appreciation for distinguished achievements. These commissioned medals can be presented to honor individuals, institutions or events of national significance.

San Francisco, The "Granite Lady" and the U.S. Mint

The San Francisco Mint -- known as the "Granite Lady" for its stately granite classic revival architecture -- contributed mightily to saving the city from total economic chaos by serving as a financial center during the days that followed the devastating 1906 earthquake. As the only institution able to open its doors, the Mint became the temporary treasury for San Francisco's relief funds, and was the only agency capable of receiving and disbursing the money necessary for the city's recovery.

The Granite Lady herself had been miraculously spared damage. Though surrounded by fire, Army soldiers and Mint employees fought the threatening blaze for seven hours with one-inch fire hoses. In 1937, a new, larger United States Mint was authorized and minting operations were transferred to the new facility, now the San Francisco Mint.

Other government agencies occupied the building until 1968, when the building was vacated. In 1972, the building was partially restored and named a National Historic Landmark, housing the Old Mint Museum. It was closed in 1994 after an analysis revealed that the building had significant earthquake vulnerability.

World War II and Fort Knox

To protect them from any possible danger during World War II, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were secretly stored in protective vaults at the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Only when Allied victory was imminent in 1944 were the historic documents returned to Washington, D.C.