William Penn founded Philadelphia on October 27, 1682 between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers in the English Crown province of Pennsylvania. Originally, the area was inhabited by the Delaware Indians and Swedish settlers who arrived there in the early 1600s. Its coastal location and positioning between two rivers made it an economic center of trade. During the American Revolution, it was the site of the First and Second Continental Congress. After the Revolution, it was a temporary capital of the United States.
It remained a cultural, financial, and economic center of the country well into the eighteenth century. Commerce was driven by the British copper pence and half pence and Spanish silver coins from Mexico. These foreign currencies circulated widely in the United States and were accepted as legal tender well into the eighteenth century. The need for currency to facilitate domestic and international trade led to the creation of the first United States Mint in Philadelphia.
Early Mints in North American Colonies
On September 3, 1783, Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the United States and formally end the war. Every sovereign country has its own currency as a sign of power and wealth. Unfortunately, the young United States could not organize a currency system of its own until 1792.
In the meantime, colonies began producing their currencies. Some of the more popular coins include:
- Massachusetts Bay Colony coins of 1652 (Three Pence, Sixpence, One Shilling, New England, and Willow Tree coins)
- Massachusetts state coinage
- Higley coinage
- New Hampshire coinage
- Vermont copper coins and paper currency
- Connecticut coinage
- New York Brasher gold coins
- New Jersey copper coins
Creation of the First United States Mint
Congress through the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792, created the United States Mint and gave it authority to mint gold, silver, and copper coins. Congress approved the following denominations and values: gold Eagles with a value of ten dollars, gold Half Eagles with a value of five dollars, gold Quarter Eagles valued at two dollars and fifty cents, silver dollars with a value of 100 cents, silver half dollars worth fifty cents, silver quarter dollars equal to twenty-five cents, silver Disme (original spelling of the word dime) valued at ten cents, silver half Disme equivalent to five cents, copper cents, and copper half cents. Silver and gold coins were to be valued at the ratio of 15 to 1 by weight.
Additionally, the act dictated that all coins have one side having a design emblematic of liberty with the inscription "LIBERTY" and the year it was made. The reverse of gold and silver coins was to have an eagle and include the inscription “United States of America.” Copper coins were to have an inscription giving the denomination.
The first coins made under the authority of the United States Mint took place in a saw factory in Philadelphia. Several prototypes or pattern coins were made and included the 1792 Silver center cent, Fugio coppers, the Birch Cent, the half Disme, and the Disme.
First Philadelphia Mint (1792-1832)
On July 18, 1792, the United States government purchased the property and buildings located on North Seventh Street in Philadelphia. Some buildings were salvaged, and others destroyed to make room for new facilities. In September, the mint began purchasing raw copper for production. By October, there were three coining presses installed and ready for production. The mint began trial strikes in December.
The price of copper rose in 1793, and a congressional act was required to reduce the amount of copper used in the cent and half-cent to make it economically feasible to produce them. In February 1793, production of copper cents for circulation began. The design featured a bust of Lady Liberty on the obverse and a chain of fifteen links on the reverse, one for each state with the denomination of “One Cent” in the center.
Due to the requirement of insurance bonding for silver and gold coins, only copper coins were made for the first year. In the fall of 1794, Congress reduced the insurance requirement, and the mint struck the first silver coins at the new Philadelphia Mint facility consisting of half dollars and dollars. Gold coin production didn’t begin until 1795 with a small production run of gold Eagles and Half Eagles. Over the years the production facility was expanded, and production increased to eventually include all denominations from copper half cents through gold Eagles.
Second Philadelphia Mint (1833-1901)
On March 2, 1829, Congress approved the creation and allocated the funds for a new mint facility. Property on Chestnut Street was purchased, and construction began on July 4. The building was designed by architect William Strickland who was inspired by ancient Greek temples and featured six large columns in front of the building. This architectural style was typical amongst banking institutions of the time to symbolize strength and resilience.
The new building was ready for occupancy in January 1833. With the exception of some balance scales and ancillary equipment, most of the old equipment was scrapped, and new production equipment was purchased for the new building. A grand opening ceremony was held on May 23, 1833, and was open to the general public to see. Over the coming years, mint employees visited a variety of mints in Europe to examine modern coining equipment and refining processes. Many of these processes were adopted for United States coinage.
Third Philadelphia Mint (1901-1969)
Treasury Secretary William Winton reported to Congress in 1891 that the second Philadelphia mint facility was exceeding production far beyond its planned capacity. Even taking into account the branch mints in Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco, a new mint facility was required. Congress approved to fund a replacement building on Chestnut Street.
By 1900 the construction of a white marble building was nearing completion. The Treasury Department spared no expense decorating the interior of this new state-of-the-art minting facility. On July 13, 1901, a grand opening ceremony was held and featured The Mint Cabinet collection of United States coins. Although advances in mechanical operations increased, the manufacturing process still involved a vast number of laborers. The total cost of construction was $2,025,000, a princely sum of money for that time.
Fourth Philadelphia Mint (1969-to Date)
It took less than seventy years for the expansion of the United States economy to dictate a new and expanded mint facility be built. On August 14, 1969, the fourth Philadelphia mint facility was dedicated. By this time new “super presses” capable of striking 10,000 coins per minute were installed. For comparison, it took only fifteen minutes for one new press to exceed the entire first-year coinage production of 1793!
This modern mint facility also included a visitor center and guided tours. Updated mechanics continued the automation of coin die production and design processes. Today many production processes are computer-controlled and robots assist in the daily production of our nation’s coinage.
- Most people believe that the United States Mint is headquartered in Philadelphia. The Mint headquarters are actually located in Washington, DC. Philadelphia is the main design and production facility.
- Up until 1942, coins produced at Philadelphia never had a mint mark. The first “P” mintmark appeared on the 1942 Jefferson nickel to indicate the wartime silver alloy used to produce it. In 1946 the regular copper-nickel composition resumed, and the mint mark was removed from the design.
- Pennies produced at the United States Mint in Philadelphia never had a mint mark until 2017. In celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Mint in 2017, a “P” mint mark was added below the date. In 2018, the mint mark was removed.
- From 1830 until 1836, a bald eagle roosted in the Philadelphia mint facility. Mint employees named him Peter and would let him out each night. After he died, a taxidermist stuffed him and is on display in the mint’s visitor center today.
- The very first gold and silver coins produced by the United States Mint did not include the denomination in the inscription since most people were illiterate. They recognize the value of these coins by physical size and weight.