U.S. Mint Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Before the establishment of the national mint, the United States had to depend on foreign or individual states’ coins. After the U.S. Mint was created, it provided the standardized coinage necessary for the nation to conduct business, including banking and domestic trade. Through the years, the U.S. Mint has also fostered a numismatic industry that has served coin collectors.

In 1777, the U.S. Congress under the Articles of Confederation first recognized the need for a national mint to produce and distribute coinage for circulation throughout the country. In 1785, the Continental Congress adopted a decimal coinage system, and in 1787, the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to coin money and regulate its value. When the Department of the Treasury was created in 1789, Alexander Hamilton became the first secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton submitted his report on a national mint in 1791, and on April 2, 1792, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1792Coinage Act, establishing the first mint, which was to be located in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital. The Mint became the first federal building constructed under the Constitution. President George Washington appointed scientist David Rittenhouse as the first director of the Mint. Since the Mint was then within the Department of State, its director reported directly to President Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.Mint, U.S.

A worker punches out coin blanks at the U.S. Mint in New Orleans in the late 1890’s.

(Library of Congress)

The Coinage Act authorized the Mint to produce gold, silver, and copper coins. The first coins struck were silver “half-dimes,” but the first circulating coins were 11,178 copper cents delivered in March, 1793. In 1799, the U.S. Mint became an independent agency. Under the Coinage Act of 1873, it became a branch of the Department of the Treasury.

Mint Facilities

The Mint’s function is to provide enough circulating coinage for the U.S. economy to function. This function is critical to American trade and commerce. During the first years of the twenty-first century, the Mint produced between 11 billion and 20 billion circulating coins annually. Mint facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point produced the country’s domestic, bullion, and foreign coins, disbursed gold and silver for authorized purposes, and distributed coins to the Federal Reserve Banks. Fort Knox, in Kentucky, has stored the country’s metal bullion reserves. Relocated from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in 1873, the Mint headquarters has managed marketing operations, customer services, policy formulation, and research and development.

Former mint facilities included three that President Andrew Jackson authorized in 1835: New Orleans, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dahlonega, Georgia. The discovery of gold in the South in the nineteenth century had necessitated additional branches. The Confederate government closed these mints in 1861. However, the New Orleans mint resumed coining operations in 1879, and it functioned as an assay office from 1909 until 1942. The oldest surviving Mint structure, this building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.

The discovery of gold in California and the resulting westward movement led to the opening of mint branches in San Francisco in 1854 and Denver in 1863. Mint or assay facilities opened after the U.S. Civil War but ultimately closed in St. Louis, Missouri; Seattle, Washington; Boise, Idaho; Helena, Montana; Deadwood, South Dakota; Salt Lake City, Utah; and New York. The famous Carson City, Nevada, mint, which opened in 1870 after the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the country’s largest silver strike, discontinued coining production in 1893, was an assay office until 1933, and reopened as a museum in 1941.

Commercial Products and Special Issues

In 1874, the U.S. Mint was first authorized to produce coins for foreign governments. The first foreign coins it produced were two million 2« centavo and 10 million 1 centavo denominations, coined between 1875 and 1876 for the government of Venezuela. By the early 1980’s, the Mint had struck coins for more than forty foreign governments.

The U.S. Mint has also been authorized to create proof, uncirculated, and commemorative coins and medals for sale to the general public. Annual sets of proof and uncirculated coins have been a staple of the numismatic industry. Proof sets, composed of noncirculating coins with the highest quality strike and sharp details, have been highly prized by coin collectors. In 1999, the Fifty State Quarters program began. Commemorative, noncirculating coins have been authorized by Congress to raise money for organizations and causes helping the community. The first commemorative coin was the 1892 Columbian Exposition half dollar. From 1892 to 1954, the Mint produced 157 silver and gold commemorative coins. For instance, to commemorate peace between the United States, Germany, and Austria, the Peace Dollar was issued from 1921 to 1928 and from 1934 to 1935.

Congress has also authorized commemorative medals to honor people, events, and places. Bronze replicas of congressional gold medals have been made available for sale to the public. Commemorative medals have included those honoring the Dalai Lama, the Tuskegee Airmen, Jesse Owens, Robert F. Kennedy, Simon Wiesenthal, and the American Red Cross.

Further Reading
  • Evans, George Greenlief. Illustrated History of the United States Mint with a Complete Description of American Coinage, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. 1885. Rev. ed. Rockville Centre, N.Y.: Sanford J. Durst, 2002. Includes biographical essays about mint officers and descriptions of silver and gold coin production. Illustrated. Tables and glossary.
  • Goe, Rusty. The Mint on Carson Street. Reno, Nev.: Southgate Coins and Collectibles, 2004. Chronicle of the famous Nevada mint; includes stories about the Comstock miners, mint personnel, 111 coin issues between 1870 and 1893, special collections, and scandals. Illustrated. Appendixes, bibliography, and index.
  • Kelly, Richard, and Nancy Oliver. Mighty Fortress: The Stories Behind the Second San Francisco Mint. Hayward, Calif.: OK Association, 2004. This complete history covers subjects such as the rare 1870-S half-dime, the theft of $30,000 in gold coins in 1901, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Illustrated. Bibliography and index.
  • Lange, David W., and Mary Jo Mead. History of the United States Mint and Its Coinage. Atlanta: Whitman, 2006. A well-researched, comprehensive history; covers the precolonial era to the Fifty State Quarters program. Beautifully illustrated on every page. Bibliography.
  • Taxay, Don. The United States Mint and Coinage: An Illustrated History from 1776 to the Present. Rockville Centre, N.Y.: Sanford J. Durst, 1996. Originally published in 1966, this popular classic is a standard reference. Bibliography.
  • Turner, Lisa, and Kimberly Field. Denver Mint: One Hundred Years of Gangsters, Gold, and Ghosts. Denver, Colo.: Mapletree, 2007. Well-researched, entertaining, and often humorous history that includes interviews and insiders’ stories. Illustrated. Bibliography and index.

American Bimetallic League national convention

First Bank of the United States

Second Bank of the United States

Confederate currency

Counterfeiting

Currency

Fort Knox

Gold standard

Alexander Hamilton

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