DENVER (CBS4) – Visitors from out of town make the U.S. Mint in Denver one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, but sometimes those of us who live here seem to miss what’s in our own back yard.
“The United States Mint facilities besides Philadelphia, all popped up in areas where silver or gold was discovered,” explained Tim Fessing.
The gold rush of the 1850s created a need for a place where miners could cash in their mine ore.
“The miners would come down from the mountains, sell us their gold and silver. We’d form it into bars and then ship that to the San Francisco Mint or the Philadelphia Mint to be made into gold and silver coins.
The Denver Mint was located on 16th Street. Despite it being an official Mint, it never produced any coins. Denver didn’t begin doing that until the present Mint was built in 1906.
“Most of the coins we produce are for you and for I and for our economy,” said Fessing. “They’re called circulating coins.”
Last week the Mint unveiled the Lincoln or Union penny, which is now being made in Denver and is in circulation. The heads side of the coin will still be a profile of President Lincoln but the tail side now has a Union shield with 13 vertical stripes.
“The coin production process is pretty amazing,” Fessing said. “Each coin starts our as part of large roll of metal. A small blank is punched from this.
“We turn it into two tons of coins in only 45 minutes. Once the pennies drop into the presses, they’re struck by they’re struck by a set of steel dies on both sides at the same time.”
The coins are periodically checked to ensure quality. If they don’t pass the entire batch is scrapped and recycled.
Today the Denver Mint is as much museum as it is a Mint.
You can see a machine gun nest that was installed in 1937 to protect the gold and silver. You can also see a steel box where guards would sit and watch the front doors. There’s a foot pedal that was used to dispersed tear gas in the event of an emergency that remains inside.
Daily tours give you a walk through the history of the Denver Mint and an overhead view of production as millions of coins begin their journey to your piggy bank.
The Mint makes about 30 million coins a day, which adds up to nearly 8 billion coins per year.
The Denver Mint’s historic facility is located at 320 West Colfax. You can go to their Web site to schedule a tour, or call (303) 405-4761 for more information.