Prior to the establishment of a standardized monetary system, the American public relied on trading and bartering by negotiating with what was at their disposal. Oftentimes this meant using international currency and goods, whereas in other instances, Americans used coins produced by individual states under the Articles of Confederation. These social norms and practices changed, however, shortly after the Constitution of the United States was signed in September of 1787.
Following the enactment of the Constitution, the United States Mint began creating legal tender coins and bullion coins, starting with cents and half cents. From that point forward, the U.S. Mint became responsible for releasing special coinage and medals, and supervising the flow of bullion coins and products to Federal Reserve Banks. In this blog, I will dive deeper into the U.S. Mint and the broader changes the Mint catalyzed.
The conceptualization of the United States Mint began with The Coinage Act, passed on April 2, 1792, which called for a national mint. That legislation led to the creation of the Bureau of the Mint, which would later be renamed the United States Mint in 1984. In the early 1790s, the Mint was an autonomous entity overseen by the President. That responsibility was transferred in 1873, when the U.S. Department of the Treasury took over as the Mint’s parent agency.
The Mint was first led by President George Washington, who selected a leading American scientist and mathematician — David Rittenhouse — to be its inaugural Director. The pair oversaw the production of the first copper cents in 1793, followed by gold and silver coinage. The Mint’s first and only location at that time was in Philadelphia, America’s former capital. Though many politicians assumed the Mint would move with the capital to Washington, D.C., that relocation did not occur. Rather, on March 10, 1828, Congress declared that the Mint would continue to reside in Philadelphia.
While the Philadelphia Mint did not move to a different city, it did outgrow its original space. New buildings were erected in 1833, 1901, and 1969, and with each expansion to larger facilities came more advanced technology and upgrades to the systems in place. Manpower, horsepower, the use of oxen, hand-cut dies, and screw presses were gradually replaced with steam-powered coin presses, electricity, and metal refinement. Updates to its technology, however, was not the only way that the Mint transformed America.
Blazing New Trails in Numismatics
As I alluded to in my introduction, the U.S. Mint encouraged greater ramifications and reform throughout history. Socially, it championed gender equity and equal employment. In 1795, the Mint was the first federal agency to employ female staff members. In addition to that achievement, the longest-serving Mint director, Nellie Tayloe Ross, who was in office from 1933 to 1953, was also the first female director of the Mint. Politically, the Mint acted as a blueprint for other government facilities. The Mint’s original headquarters was the first federal building constructed under the Constitution, and it would not take long for the Mint to expand across the nation, from the East to West Coast.
Expansion Through the Years
These East and West Coast locations would ultimately be acknowledged as symbols of national progress. Some of the most prominent Mint locations include San Francisco, founded in 1849 (mint mark “S”), Denver, founded in 1906 (mint mark “D”), and West Point, which was founded in 1984 (mint mark “W”). Additional Mint locations that have since closed include:
- New Orleans, Louisiana (mint mark “O”)
- Founded part I: 1838
- Closed part I: 1861
- Founded part II: 1879
- Closed part II: 1909
- Dahlonega, Georgia (mint mark “D”)
- Founded: 1838
- Closed: 1861
- Charlotte, North Carolina (mint mark “C”)
- Founded: 1839
- Closed: 1861
- Carson City, Nevada (mint mark: “CC”)
- Founded: 1870
- Closed: 1893
Furthermore, the Mint created bullion depositories in Fort Knox and West Point, and assay offices were opened in New York, Boise, Helena, St. Louis, Deadwood, Seattle, and Salt Lake City. Collectively, these locations are all testaments to the Mint’s amazing work.
Historic & Contemporary Collectibles
Speaking of the U.S. Mint’s work, both historic relics and modern collectibles remain popular and desirable in the eyes of history buffs, precious metals patrons, and casual hobbyists alike. Collectors are constantly looking to expand their accumulation of original Mint products, through the addition of, for example, 19th and 20th Century coins. Coins from this time period include the 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln Cent, 1921 Peace Dollar, and 1878-CC Morgan Silver Dollar. Alternatively, other collectors may opt to exclusively obtain current coin programs, sets, medals, paper currency, engraved prints, and gift sets from the Mint. Regardless of preference, the Mint continues to innovate in order to meet the needs of all collectors, and honor the American spirit.
Coming Full Circle
From 1792 to present day, many aspects of the U.S. Mint have evolved in accordance with the growth of technology and to lead advancements in workforce demographics. Despite these changes, however, the Mint has largely remained true to its origins and the vision the Founding Fathers initially had for it. One of the many exciting outcomes of the Mint’s evolution over time, is the ability to engage with the Mint via public tours or virtual tours & online brochures. Or, if you’re an avid numismatist like myself, you can continue to collect timeless mementos through initiatives such as the 50 State Quarters Program.