The United States Mint is responsible for producing and circulating coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce.
The US Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act on April 2, 1792, within the Department of State, located in Philadelphia. It was the first building of the federation raised under the Constitution. Its first director was the scientist David Rittenhouse. Henry Voight was the first Superintendent and Chief Coiner, and is credited with some of the very first coin designs. Another important position at the mint is that of Chief Engraver, which has been held by such men as Frank Gasparro , William Barber, Charles E. Barber, James B. Longacre, Christian Gobrecht and Anthony C. Paquet , among others. George T. Morgan was also an engraver at the mint responsible for designing an important silver dollar. The Mint was made an independent agency in 1799, and under the Coinage Act of 1873, became part of the Department of the Treasury. It was placed under the auspices of the Treasurer of the United States in 1981.
With the mint, the US adopted the decimal coinage system. Before this, the accepted standard was the Spanish silver dollar with its fractional pieces of eight, but English pound, shilling and pence coins were also in use. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had all strongly argued for the adoption of the decimal system.
The Mint has operated several branch facilities throughout the United States since the Philadelphia Mint opened in 1792 in a building named "Ye Olde Mint". With the opening of branch mints came the need for mint marks, an identifying feature on the coin to show its facility of origin. The first of these branch mints were the Charlotte, North Carolina (1838-1861), Dahlonega, Georgia (1838-1861), and New Orleans, Louisiana (1838-1909) branches. Both the Charlotte ("C" mint mark) and Dahlonega ("D" mint mark) branch mints were opened to facilitate the conversion of local gold deposits into coinage, and minted only gold coins. The Civil War closed both these facilities permanently. The New Orleans branch mint ("O" mint mark) closed at the beginning of the Civil War (1861) and did not re-open until the end of Reconstruction in 1879.
A new branch facility was opened in Carson City, Nevada in 1870, and operated until 1893. Like the Charlotte and Dahlonega branches, the Carson City branch ("CC" mint mark) was opened to take advantage of local precious metal deposits, in this case, a large vein of silver.
The Mint currently operates its main facility at Philadelphia along with three branch mints. The current facility at Philadelphia, which opened in 1969, is the fourth Philadelphia Mint. The first was built in 1792, when Philadelphia was still the US capital, and began operation in 1793. Until 1980, coins minted at Philadelphia bore no mint mark, with the exceptions of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the "wartime" Jefferson nickel. In 1980, the "P" mint mark was added to all US coinage except the cent. Until 1968, the Philadelphia mint was responsible for nearly all official proof coinage. Philadelphia is also the site of all master die production for US coinage, and the engraving and design departments of the Mint are also located there.
The Denver branch began life in 1863 as the local Assay Office, just five years after gold was discovered in the area. By the turn of the century, the office was bringing in over $5 million in annual gold and silver deposits, and in 1906, the Mint opened its new Denver branch. Denver uses a "D" mint mark, and strikes coinage only for circulation. It also produces its own working dies (from masters made in Philadelphia), as well as some of the working dies for the San Francisco Mint.
The San Francisco branch, opened in 1854 to serve the goldfields of the California Gold Rush, uses an "S" mint mark. It quickly outgrew its first building and moved into a new facility in 1874. This building, one of the few that survived the great earthquake of 1906, served until 1937, when the present facility was opened. 1n 1968, it took over most proof-coinage production from Philadelphia, and since 1975, it has been used solely for proof coinage, with the exception of the Anthony dollar and a portion of the mintage of cents in the early 1980s (which bore no mint marks).
The West Point branch is the newest branch mint. Its predecessor, the West Point Bullion Depository, was opened in 1937, and cents were produced there from 1973 to 1986. West Point gained official status as a branch mint on March 31, 1988. Along with the cents already mentioned, which were identical to those produced at Philadelphia, West Point has struck a great deal of commemorative and proof coinage bearing the "W" mint mark. The West Point facility is still used for storage of the United States' gold bullion reserves, and West Point is now the United States' primary production facility for gold coins.
While not a coin production facility, the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky is another facility of the Mint. Its primary purpose is for storage of the United States' (and other countries') gold bullion reserves.
The Mint manages extensive commercial marketing programs. The product line includes special coin sets for collectors, national medals, American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins, and commemorative coins marking national events such as the Bicentennial of the Constitution. The Mint's functions include:
- Producing domestic, bullion and foreign coins;
- Manufacturing and selling national commemorative medals;
- Designing, producing, and marketing special coinage;
- Manufacturing and selling proof and uncirculated coin sets and other numismatic items;
- Safeguarding and controlling the movement of bullion;
- Disbursing gold and silver for authorized purposes;
- Distributing coins from the Mints to Federal Reserve Banks.
Note that the US Mint is not responsible for the production of paper money; that is the responsibility of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
In 2000, the U.S. Mint was responsible for the production of 28 billion coins. See United States coinage.