This April 2 marks the 221st anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Mint, certainly one of the milestones in our nation’s history.
We frequently take money for granted. In truth, we actually handle actual money less and less as we depend more and more on credit and debit cards and on-line purchasing — but these are not “money”; they are merely “assurances” that we have the money to pay for the items later.
Personally, I really like looking at the artistry on American currency. Take, for example, the $2 bill, with the portrait of Thomas Jefferson and the illustration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it’s a wonderful glimpse into our nation’s beginning. In fact, each U.S. currency —bill and coin— is a small history lesson with the illustrations of the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Treasury Building, The U.S. Capitol and Independence Hall in Philadelphia and, of course, portraits of our presidents and founders. And at our house, we’ve taken great pleasure in collecting all 52 state quarters. Our currency — coins and bills — is truly emblematic of our nation’s ideals.
It was early on in our republic that the need for a national currency became evident. President Washington and his Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton believed the young country very much needed a respected currency, backed by precious metals, and presented plans to Congress for construction of a facility that would mint the currency in Philadelphia, then our nation’s capital. Congress passed The Coinage Act on April 2, 1792, and the U.S. Mint became the first building constructed by the new government.
As I said, nowadays we take money for granted — not money itself, but the concept of money. Believe me, life would be difficult if we lacked a national currency. Think about it. Say that I wanted to get my son a new bicycle, and (lacking currency) I need to trade something to someone who has a bike; I decide to trade two seats to a Rockets’ game. But now it can get difficult. I need to find someone who has a bike that I think my son would like, but that person must be someone who wants to go to a basketball game; then we must negotiate the trade, agreeing that the two tickets are a fair exchange for the bike. This is called the “double coincidence” of trade and requires that both “seller” and “buyer” agree on the worth of their separate items.
Currency solves all that because currency is the recognized medium of exchange or trade. In truth, all the “items” in our lives have a currency “worth,” or value — our homes, autos, jackets, shoes, the food in our pantries, the various tools we use to communicate with each other. (Of course, there are certain things we have that are “priceless” — the scrapbooks with photos of our children through the years, our beloved pets, an engagement ring.)
But let me return to currency. The U.S. Mint, part of the U.S. Treasury Department, is headquartered in Washington DC, and has four locations that actually produce our coin currency, in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, N.Y. A sixth facility of the U.S. Mint is the gold bullion depository in Fort Knox, Ky.
But, citing the U.S. Constitution, Congress was given the power to “coin money”; the U.S. Mint produces only our coins. Our bills, or notes, are produced by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s facilities in Washington D.C. and Fort Worth. The Bureau was created in 1861, with workers printing and trimming sheets of “demand notes”; the Bureau also produces our postage stamps. The work the Bureau has done to prevent counterfeiting is an exciting story in itself, and the new bills of $10 denominations and higher are boldly designed.
(Perhaps you have heard about the recent phenomenon “bitcoins,” a new kind of private, decentralized digital currency not backed by the U.S. government. Bitcoin purchases are anonymous; there is no record of the seller or buyer, which is why bitcoins have been tied to some illicit purchasing. The concept, and usage, of bitcoins is still too new to predict if it may become a kind of stable “currency,” at least electronically, or if it can remain unregulated.)
The Federal Reserve Bank, which is often confused with the U.S. Mint, was created in 1913 with the mission of setting the nation’s monetary policies and regulating banking procedures, but not the actual making of money. The “Fed” is responsible for the “soundness” of our dollar. Nearly all countries have their own form of currency, but the U.S. dollar is the envy of most of the world’s economies, and most currencies are measured in strength against the dollar. The Federal Reserve Bank branch on Allen Parkway offers an informative and enlightening tour, and you can see loads of money there.
Growing up, many of us had a piggy bank or something similar, and we were encouraged to save — just as were George Washington and Alexander Hamilton when they were youngsters. The pennies and nickels and dimes we kept in our savings were symbolic, and emblematic, of our future promise. We saved to perhaps buy a bicycle, for a school trip or for our college education. The piggy bank became heavier with coins, and we found great pride in our “worth.” There’s something very American about that.
So, the next time you pay for something in cash, take just a moment to look at the currency you are exchanging. There’s a great deal of history — and genius — behind it. Indeed, Washington and Hamilton’s insistence on the creation of a national currency was the first step in making the greatest and longest lasting economy in history. [Source]