This is the third installment in our series about United States mints.
In the mid-nineteenth century in San Francisco, one thing was on everybody’s mind: gold! But the nearest mint to the California Gold Rush was all the way in New Orleans. A mint was badly needed to turn the huge supplies of raw gold into coins and bullion. In 1854, the first San Francisco Mint was established. However, the design of the second mint is the reason why there is still a mint in San Francisco.
After its first year in operation, four million dollars in gold coins had been minted at the first San Francisco Mint. With a growing supply of raw gold and not enough space to process it, it was clear that a bigger facility was needed. So the construction of the second mint began. Twenty years after the first San Francisco Mint opened, the second location, now known as the Old United States Mint began minting coins. The new building boasted an enclosed courtyard with a well in the center, a feature that would soon be very important.
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the subsequent fires, could have been the end of the Old United States Mint. But thanks to the well at the center of the mint building, and hard work from Mint Superintendent Frank Leach, the Old United States Mint was one of the few buildings that survived the fire. This was a fortunate turn of events, because at the time of the earthquake, the building was home to one third of the nation’s bullion.
After the earthquake and fires, the Old United States Mint carried on, operating until 1937, when the New Mint opened. In 1955, upgrades at the Denver and Philadelphia mints made the New Mint in San Francisco obsolete. Operations were suspended and the building was converted to storage. A coin shortage led to its reopening in the late 1960s when San Francisco also took over most of the proof minting from Philadelphia.
For the better part of the last 40 years, the New Mint in San Francisco has primarily minted proof coins. While the New Mint is not open to the public, the Old United States Mint serves as both a museum and a venue available to rent for events.
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