Mint, Federal

views updated


MINT, FEDERAL. The first American Secretary of Finance, Robert Morris, first urged the Continental Congress to establish a mint in 1782. In 1786, Congress ordered the Board of the Treasury to study the subject, but not until 2 April 1792, three years after the Constitution, did the new government authorize the creation of a mint. The mint was set up in 1793 in Philadelphia, then the national capital, and remained there permanently after other government agencies moved to Washington, D.C. Silver coinage began in 1794 and gold coinage in 1795. The staff at first consisted of eleven officers and clerks, nineteen workmen in the coining department, and seven men at the furnaces. The total coinage produced in 1794– 1795 was less than $500,000. By 1807, the output exceeded $1 million. In 1851, the mint struck nearly $63.5 million, all of it gold except for about $800,000. In the earlier years, the mint often lacked gold and silver with which to work. In 1820, it operated only part of the time because of this scarcity and the small demand for copper coins.

In 1835, Congress established three branch mints—one at New Orleans and two in new goldfields in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dahlonega, Georgia. The mint at New Orleans was taken over by the Confederates at the beginning of the Civil War and operated by them between 26 January and 31 May 1861, when they suspended operations. The New Orleans mint did not resume work until 1879, and, in 1909, it ceased to coin and became an assay office. The mint at Dahlonega closed in 1861 and the mint at Charlotte was used as barracks by Confederate soldiers and never operated after that. A branch mint was installed at San Francisco in 1854 and operated until 1955. Another mint was legally established at Denver in 1862, but no coins had yet been made there when in 1870 it was turned into an assay office. In 1895, it was again authorized to coin, but no money was made there until 1906. A sixth branch mint began work at Carson City, Nevada, in 1870, but its production was not great, and it closed in 1893. Another mint, authorized in 1864 at Dalles, Oregon, was in the process of construction in 1871 when it was destroyed by fire, and the project was abandoned. A mint authorized in 1902 at Manila, in the Philippines, had a comparatively small output. By acts of 1846 and later, the various mints were made public depositories. The Bureau of the Mint was created by Congress on 12 February 1873, as a division of the Treasury Department. In 1984, the name of the Bureau of the Mint changed to the United States Mint. Currently, the mint supervises the four remaining coinage mints in Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and West Point as well as a bullion depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The minting of gold coins ceased in 1934. In 1979, the United States Mint began producing the Susan B. Anthony dollar, the first American coin to feature a nonmythological woman, but it proved unpopular because it too closely resembled a quarter. In 2000, the United States Mint replaced that unsuccessful dollar with another dollar coin featuring a woman: Sacagawea, who helped guide the Lewis and Clark expedition. The mint hoped that the gold color, smooth edge, and wide, raised border around the edge of the Sacagawea dollar would distinguish it from other currency denominations. At the end of the twentieth century, the United States Mint introduced the Fifty State Quarters program, which will mint one style of quarter for each state in the United States.


Birdsall, Clair M. The United States Branch Mint at Charlotte, North Carolina: Its History and Coinage. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1988.

Head, Sylvia. The Neighborhood Mint: Dahlonega in the Age of Jackson. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986.

Stewart, Frank H. History of the First United States Mint. Lawrence, Mass.: Quarterman Publications, 1974.

Alvin F.Harlow/h. s.; a. e.

See alsoCurrency and Coinage ; Financial Panics ; Hard Money ; Legal Tender ; Pieces of Eight ; Specie Payments, Suspension and Resumption of .