Click to enlarge the photograph of the first Mint at Philadelphia, a modest set of buildings housing offices and manufacturing spaces. (National Archives)
�Many citizens of the new nation were deeply suspicious of federal power. They were accustomed to using coins issued by their own state banks, along with various forms of foreign currency. The suggestion of a single federal mint producing a uniform coinage was disturbing.�
��Independence Hall Association
HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE
The first structures for the United States Mint in the nation�s capital city, Philadelphia, became prominent symbols of the newly formed government�s authority, their humble appearance not withstanding. Although there was much resistance to the centralization of minting production in the federal government, Alexander Hamilton�s federalist ideas prevailed, and the U.S. Mint and the Bank of the United States were established.
In the late 1820s the Mint decided it needed more space to keep up with rising production requirements. The old buildings were abandoned, and in 1833 a new Mint was opened in another part of town. Designed by William Strickland, it was a simple two story building with basement in the early Greek Revival mode. A welcoming portico of Ionic columns and a grand flight of stairs invited the visitor inside. After more than 60 years of service, the Mint again decided on building a larger facility for its increasing production demands. The result was the building designed in the late 1890s under William Aiken and the Supervising Architect�s Office.
Photograph of the second Mint in Philadelphia completed in 1833 by architect William Strickland. It was demolished in 1907. (HABS/HAER, Library of Congress)
The physical state of the Mint shortly after its opening is indicated by a report completed in 1910 by the prominent architecture firm York and Sawyer. They write, �The building is kept in very good condition generally, but the area on the East is filled with uncovered heaps of scrap iron, barrels etc. presenting an unsightly appearance and the carpenter shops are littered with lumber, rubbish, sawdust and inflammable material.�
The report also makes note of the building�s security apparatus and notes the inadequacy of the vault doors: �The doors of these basement vaults . . . are not nearly so strong however, as would be required by private institutions of comparatively small wealth and they bear no relation whatever to the importance of the treasure in such a vault as F which contains at the moment 300 million dollars in gold.�
Click to enlarge a photograph of a design for the third Mint building in Philadelphia, 1888, proposed by William A. Freret, Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1887-89. (HABS/HAER, Library of Congress)
Click to enlarge a photograph of the third Philadelphia Mint building under construction in 1899. (HABS/HAER, Library of Congress)
The Bureau of the Mint built a fourth building at Philadelphia in the 1970s. Concerns over security and access to major transportation routes trumped civic presence. As one writer notes, �The latest Mint lacks the intimacy of the first Mint and the majesty of the second and third edifices. It is white, boxy, and nearly windowless.�
Photograph of the Brutalist architecture of the fourth Philadelphia Mint Building. Brutalism, which flourished in the late 1960s and 70s, refers to architecture of exposed concrete, rough surfaces, and small window areas, and is dedicated to solving functional requirements above all. (National Archives)
The mint building was sold to the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) in 1969 for $1.00. No longer serviceable in the eyes of the federal government, there was little incentive to retain the building and manage its maintenance and preservation. CCP has preserved the building in a state of good repair, but has not attempted a full-scale restoration. Classrooms and administrative offices are now housed in the former office and manufacturing rooms. Most of these rooms have been altered over the years with drop ceilings and fluorescent lighting, carpets or modern tile flooring, and the installation of modern wiring and walls. Although the lobby retains much of its original character, the unique combination of the building�s original functions no longer survives to be seen.