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How Coins Are Made: Early vs. Modern Day U.S. Mint Facilities

You’ll probably want to check out our earlier article about the history of coins and coin collecting first.

Now, onto how U.S. coins have been made throughout the years…

How Early U.S. Coins Were Made

These days, they have large machinery at the U.S. Mint facilities that can produce millions of coins per day.

But what did they use before this technology came along?

Well, back in 800 B.C. they used the hammer method:

  • A worker used a hammer to reduce the thickness of a sheet of metal — in which the blanks were then cut out by shears.
  • The coin blanks were then filed and hammered to reach the desired weight and thickness of the coin.
  • The coin maker then carried out the so-called “striking” by putting a blank on the fixed die and holding the die above by hand.
  • The worker then struck several blows with a hammer to finish the coin.

Sounds like a lot of work to make one coin huh?

Now, think how long it would take to make several of them!

So that’s how coins were made back in the day…

The First U.S. Coin Presses

Here are some interesting facts that set the tone for how coins are made in the United States today:

In 1792, American coins were made at the first U.S. Mint facility in Philadelphia (which, at the time, was the nation’s capital).

These coins were made by using screw presses:

  • It took 3 men to operate a screw press — 2 on each end of a weighted iron bar and 1 seated in front of the press. (Animals were sometimes used to power the presses.)
  • One seated man would insert planchets and remove the finished coins. The 2 other men would tug on leather straps attached to the iron bar.
  • The bar was attached to a heavy iron screw — which drove an upper die down towards a lower one, when the men on one side of the bar pulled it towards them.
  • Then, when the men on the other side tugged on the bar, the screw and upper die were raised and the seated man would remove the finished coin.

A good team of coiners could turn out several dozen small U.S. coins per minute.

Not bad — but that’s still not very fast.

The first business-strike coins were half dimes (or half disme) in 1792. According to the U.S. Mint, they were believed to be made from silverware provided by George and Martha Washington.

Here’s everything you want to know about half dimes and how much they’re worth today.

The first circulating coins in the United States were a total of 11,178 copper cents made on March 3, 1793. Today, we refer to them as “large cents” — because they are technically pennies, but the size of half dollars!

In 1836, a steam-powered coining press imported from France was put to work in the United States Mint.

Power to turn the press was supplied by a belt from the steam engine.

It had the capacity to make 100 coins per minute.

In 1838, more efficient coin presses finally came along. The old steam press was taken from its home at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and placed in a museum.

Three additional U.S Mint facilities opened in 1838. Both the Charlotte Mint and the Dalonega Mint only produced gold coins, while the New Orleans Mint made only gold and silver coins. At the time, the Philadelphia Mint was mostly making copper coins.

See how U.S. coins are made by touring the New Orleans Mint Museum!

Modern Day U.S. Coin Presses

In early years, producing coins took a lot of time and was very hard work.

Today, the Philadelphia and Denver Mints use modernized machines to perform a better, faster, more efficient version of the same work that was done back in 1792.

Modern U.S. Mint facilities can produce more than 75 million coins in 24 hours almost effortlessly.

Now that’s a lot of coins!

As you can see, there have been some big advancements through the years impacting how coins are made in the United States.

This video shows how coin die making was done in the 1940s vs. today:

This video shows how U.S. pennies were made in the 1940s vs. today:

The United States Mint currently operates 6 facilities across the United States with each facility performing unique functions:

  1. Denver, CO – coin production facility
  2. Fort Knox, KY – bullion depository
  3. Philadelphia, PA – coin production facility
  4. San Francisco, CA – coin production facility
  5. Washington, DC – headquarters
  6. West Point, NY – coin production facility

Former U.S. Mint facilities that are no longer in operation include:

Here’s how money gets into circulation after it leaves the U.S. Mint.

How Paper Money Is Made

The U.S. Mint only makes coins.

It’s the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing that is responsible for making paper currency.

Both agencies fall under the U.S. Dept of the Treasury.

This video shows how paper money is made in the U.S.: