The Story of United States Mint

Take a peek into the history of the U.S. Mint and see where your favorite coins are made

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons – The current building of the San Francisco Mint.

Have you ever thought about where coins come from? The materials your coins are made of came from deep within the Earth, but how does a raw chunk of gold, silver or other metal become the beautifully detailed circular pieces you have in your coin collection?

The task of making coins falls to a facility known as a “mint.” A mint is a specially-designated place where money is coined, typically with the authority of the government. The job of a mint is to ensure that there are enough coins circulating throughout the nation for people to spend, as well as producing other coins and medals for collectors. Mints that operate without the backing of a government body—and thus produce coins that are not considered legal tender—are known as “private mints.”

There are currently five major facilities owned by the U.S. Mint. They can be found in these cities:

  • Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) – the oldest and largest mint
  • San Francisco (California)
  • Denver (Colorado)
  • Fort Knox (Kentucky)
  • West Point (New York) – the newest mint

Brief History of the Mint

Shortly after the Constitution of the United States was first drafted, the Founding Fathers recognized the importance of establishing a legitimate monetary system, independent from Europe. As a result, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton established the national Mint by asking Congress to pass The Coinage Act of 1792. Congress approved of Hamilton’s idea, and so the United States’ first Mint building was constructed in the young nation’s capital, which at the time was Philadelphia. This building was the first structure ever erected by the Federal government.

A man by the name of David Rittenhouse was appointed by President George Washington as the first Director of the Mint. By the following spring (March 1793), Rittenhouse and the Mint had successfully issued the country’s first circulating coins – over 11,000 copper cents – and also begun producing gold (Eagles, Half Eagles and Quarter Eagles) and silver coins (Dollars, Half Dollars, Quarter Dollars, Dimes, and Half Dimes).

The Philadelphia Branch – World’s Largest Mint

For forty years, the Philadelphia Mint faithfully fulfilled its mission of producing coins featuring “an impression emblematic of liberty,” as mandated by the Mint Act, in their original 3-story brick building—nicknamed “Ye Olde Mint.” However, after a fire destroyed the smelt and mill houses beyond repair, mint operations eventually moved to a second facility in 1833, where it remained for seventy years. Now, the Philadelphia Mint occupies its fourth building and offers tours to visitors.

Other Modern Branches

The Denver and San Francisco branches of the U.S. Mint opened up in the mid-1800s in response to the gold rushes occurring in Colorado and California at the time. The Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Kentucky actually doesn’t produce coins at all, but instead serves as a storage facility for gold and silver bullion. Though it was previously used for metal storage as well, the Mint’s newest branch in West Point started producing coins in 1988. Now the West Point Mint is the United States’ primary production facility for gold, silver and platinum American Eagle coins.

Fun Facts

  • Legend has it that George and Martha Washington – who lived just a few blocks away from the Philadelphia Mint – donated personal silver from their home to be used to strike the first coin.
  • The Philadelphia Mint, the largest in the world, can churn out 1.8 million coins per hour. That’s 32 million coins daily and 13.5 billion coins yearly!
  • From 1942 to 1945, 5-cent coins weren’t really nickels. That’s because during these years the U.S. Mint used a special copper alloy so that all of the country’s nickel could go into the Second World War.
  • The Secretary of Treasury is only allowed to alter the designs of circulated coins after 25 years, but Congress can implement a change sooner.
  • Before the invention of steam operated coin presses in 1836, the Mint was powered by horses, oxen and men.
  • The “security” of the first U.S. Mint consisted of a watchdog acquired for the cost $3.

Visit the official U.S. Mint site for kids for more fun and interesting facts.

Click here to view a timeline of the United States Mint.