The Old United States Mint

October 13, 2017 – March 18, 2018

Alexander Hamilton is widely regarded as the father of the United States’ financial system. The young nation emerged from the Revolutionary War deeply in debt to foreign investors and its own citizens who had bought war bonds. Hamilton, as a Federalist , had long argued for a strong centralized government. George Washington named him the United States’ first secretary of the treasury, and the government proceeded to assume the Revolutionary War debts of the new states, implement an income tax system, establish the Bank of the United States, and found the first US Mint.

In 1854–exactly fifty ears after Hamilton’s untimely death in 1804 and only four years after California became a state–San Francisco became home to one of the first four branches of the US Mint. The San Francisco Mint and Assay Office, a subsidiary of the original Philadelphia Mint,opened in response to the gold rush. At its small brick building on Commercial Street, it converted approximately $4 million of miners’ gold into coins in its first year alone. A decade later, with silver from Nevada mines straining its limited capacity, the government began drawing up plans for a larger facility.

The second San Francisco Mint, no longer subordinate to Philadelphia, opened at Fifth and Mission Streets in 1874, serving the diverse functions of foundry, fortress, and public bank and firmly declaring the federal government’s control over the young state’s riches. This facility was pivotal to the nation’s financial history for a sixty-three-year period, from 1874 until it ceased minting functions in 1937. Its initial production far exceeded expectations. In the single year of 1877, for instance, it minted about $50 million of the total $83.9 million in gold and silver coins produced by the United St at es. And as a repository for the United States’ wealth, the Mint housed one-third of the nation’s gold supply in 1934.

The grandeur and stature of the 1874 building also carried a symbolic message: that the State of California, just twenty-four years old at the time, was truly part of the nation. Known today as the Old US Mint, the building stands as one of the oldest intact structures in San Francisco.