This is the first in a series of articles about the United States mints.
It’s 1776 and the ink is still drying on the U.S. Constitution. One of our Founding Fathers’ first actions was to create a continental currency, thinking that it would ease trade and unify the emerging country. A dream team of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was tasked with designing the new currency and establishing a system to produce it. No small feat.
Franklin, Adams and Jefferson conducted an immense amount of research before deciding on anything. Years of research, reports and hard work went into creating our first currency production system. It took 16 years to establish the original Philadelphia Mint, which is commonly known as Ye Old Mint.
David Rittenhouse was appointed director of the first mint, which was located in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rittenhouse used his own funds to buy an old whiskey distillery at 631 Filbert St., one block away from where the U.S. Federal Courthouse now stands. The distillery was torn down, and Ye Old Mint was built.
The mint consisted of three buildings. The smelt house was the first to be constructed. The next was a brick building, three stories high, that bore the name Ye Old Mint. It contained basement vaults where the coins were pressed stored. The third building was a mill house located between the smelt house and Ye Old Mint. Security was typical for the era. For the cost of $3, a “Dog for the Yard” was acquired for the mint’s protection.
A year after Rittenhouse was appointed, the first coins were minted. Silver “half dimes” were the first official U.S. coins ever struck. The uncirculated silver coins were said to be constructed of silver from George and Martha Washington’s very own silverware! Copper cents were the first circulated coins struck. In 1793, 11,178 copper cents were produced. At a coin auction in Florida two years ago, one of these early coins sold for $1.38 million!
Ye Old Mint went on producing coins at this location without a hitch for over 25 years. The smelter house and mill house burned down in 1818. Unfortunately, neither was ever rebuilt. From then until the end of Ye Old Mint 15 years later, smelting was done off-site. Coin production moved to a second Philadelphia location 15 years after the fire. Unfortunately, due to lack of government funding, Ye Old Mint was destroyed in the early 1900s.
The mint would move two more times before settling into its current location in the late 1960s. The modern Philadelphia Mint can strike as many as one million coins in half an hour. Ye Old Mint would have needed three years to create that many coins!
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