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New Orleans Mint History

Posted on: 2016-01-07

President Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, advocated the establishment of a mint in New Orleans in order to help finance development of the nation's western frontier. During his presidency (1828-1836), Jackson waged a political battle with eastern bankers who wanted to consolidate their power in the Northeast and were reluctant to risk their resources in western development. Jackson won this "Bank War," convincing Congress to authorize funds for construction of the New Orleans Mint. In 1835, workers laid the foundation for the New Orleans branch of the U.S. Mint, now one of Louisiana's most intriguing landmarks.

Authorities selected New Orleans for several good reasons: it was the fifth largest city in the nation and the largest in the South and West; it was one of the United States' most active ports, attracting goods and people from all over the world; and it was situated near recently-discovered gold deposits in Alabama. More foreign trade was transacted in New Orleans at this time than in any other part of the United States. Although the main mint at Philadelphia could produce enough coinage, it could not return enough gold and silver currency to distant regions of the nation.

The renowned architect William Strickland designed the New Orleans Mint, and two New Orleanians - Benjamin F. Cox, master carpenter and joiner, and John Mitchell, master mason and builder - supervised its construction. Strickland's architectural credits included the new capitol building in Washington, D.C., the Second U.S. Bank, the Naval Home, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, and the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, which was done in the Egyptian Revival style. Utilizing the then-popular Greek Revival style, Strickland gave the New Orleans Mint its aesthetic integrity by combining Ionic porticos and classic, simple lines. Even though minting began in 1838, the building itself was not completed until the following year.

The New Orleans Mint provided much-needed hard currency for western expansion, land development, and commerce. In the nineteenth century the value of a coin was determined by how much of a precious metal - gold or silver - it contained. Individuals could bring their foreign coins, bars, dust, and old jewelry to the Mint and exchange them for newly minted American coins. The U.S. government assumed all costs of converting these various forms of gold and silver into usable currency. The New Orleans Mint coined gold and silver dollars, half dollars, quarters, dimes, half dimes, three-cent pieces made of silver, double eagles ($20), eagles ($10), half eagles ($5), and quarter eagles ($2.50) made of gold. The coining machinery was initially hand-powered, but was replaced with steam power in 1845, a sign of the ever-widening influence of the Industrial Revolution.

By the mid-1850s, structural flaws began to show in the New Orleans Mint. In 1854 officials hired P.G.T. Beauregard, a recent West Point engineering graduate, to fireproof the building and add masonry flooring and iron beams to the edifice. Beauregard rose to national fame during the Civil War; he commanded the Confederate forces that fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, thus opening the War Between the States.

On January 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the Union. State authorities subsequently seized control of the Mint along with other federal properties and transferred it to the Confederate States Army for its own coinage operation. But the Confederacy's supply of bullion expired in May of 1861. After that date, Confederate troops were housed at the Mint.

One of the most infamous incidents to occur in Union-occupied New Orleans took place at the Mint - the execution of William Mumford for treason. Mumford was a professional riverboat gambler who desecrated the Union flag. A visitor to New Orleans in 1873, Edward King, described the Mint and this notorious event:

 

The Ionic building at the corner of Esplanade and New Levee streets, once used as a United States branch mint, is noted as the place of execution of Mumford, who tore down the flag which the Federal forces had just raised on the roof when in 1862 the city was first occupied by the Northern forces. Mumford was hung, by General Butler's order, from a flagstaff projecting from one of the windows under the front portico of the main building.

 

It was not until 1879, following the period of Reconstruction, that the New Orleans Mint resumed its original function of producing U.S. coins. The Mint at New Orleans was the only one of three mint branches in the South to be reopened.

In addition to U.S. money, in 1907 the New Orleans Mint coined over 5.5 million silver twenty- centavo pieces for the Mexican government, part of the United States government's program to manufacture foreign coinage. 

The coining of currency ceased permanently at the New Orleans Mint in 1909, after the federal government determined that facilities at the San Francisco and Denver Mints were adequate to handle the demand. At that time, all minting machinery was moved to Philadelphia, and, to date, the original machinery has not been located.

For the next 57 years, the Old U.S. Mint served a variety of purposes, including offices for the city assayer, a federal detention center, and a Coast Guard receiving station. In 1966 the federal government transferred the property, by then rundown and neglected, to the state of Louisiana. Through community action and public interest, the Old U.S. Mint escaped demolition. Between 1974 and 1981 several groups and individuals, under the auspices of the State Museum Board of Directors, worked to secure the funding that would transform the Mint into a museum and research center devoted to Louisiana history.

Today the Old U.S. Mint houses the State Museum's jazz collection and exhibition and a small exhibition on the landmark's intriguing history. The Louisiana Historical Center, a research library with numerous manuscript collections and the state's colonial archives, is also located in the Mint.

 

By the mid-1850s, structural flaws began to show in the New Orleans Mint. In 1854 officials hired P.G.T. Beauregard, a recent West Point engineering graduate, to fireproof the building and add masonry flooring and iron beams to the edifice. Beauregard rose to national fame during the Civil War; he commanded the Confederate forces that fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, thus opening the War Between the States.

 

On January 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the Union. State authorities subsequently seized control of the Mint along with other federal properties and transferred it to the Confederate States Army for its own coinage operation. But the Confederacy's supply of bullion expired in May of 1861. After that date, Confederate troops were housed at the Mint.

 

One of the most infamous incidents to occur in Union-occupied New Orleans took place at the Mint - the execution of William Mumford for treason. Mumford was a professional riverboat gambler who desecrated the Union flag. A visitor to New Orleans in 1873, Edward King, described the Mint and this notorious event:

 

The Ionic building at the corner of Esplanade and New Levee streets, once used as a United States branch mint, is noted as the place of execution of Mumford, who tore down the flag which the Federal forces had just raised on the roof when in 1862 the city was first occupied by the Northern forces. Mumford was hung, by General Butler's order, from a flagstaff projecting from one of the windows under the front portico of the main building.

 

It was not until 1879, following the period of Reconstruction, that the New Orleans Mint resumed its original function of producing U.S. coins. The Mint at New Orleans was the only one of three mint branches in the South to be reopened.

 

In addition to U.S. money, in 1907 the New Orleans Mint coined over 5.5 million silver twenty- centavo pieces for the Mexican government, part of the United States government's program to manufacture foreign coinage.

 

The coining of currency ceased permanently at the New Orleans Mint in 1909, after the federal government determined that facilities at the San Francisco and Denver Mints were adequate to handle the demand. At that time, all minting machinery was moved to Philadelphia, and, to date, the original machinery has not been located.

 

For the next 57 years, the Old U.S. Mint served a variety of purposes, including offices for the city assayer, a federal detention center, and a Coast Guard receiving station. In 1966 the federal government transferred the property, by then rundown and neglected, to the state of Louisiana. Through community action and public interest, the Old U.S. Mint escaped demolition. Between 1974 and 1981 several groups and individuals, under the auspices of the State Museum Board of Directors, worked to secure the funding that would transform the Mint into a museum and research center devoted to Louisiana history.

Today the Old U.S. Mint houses the State Museum's jazz collection and exhibition and a small exhibition on the landmark's intriguing history. The Louisiana Historical Center, a research library with numerous manuscript collections and the state's colonial archives, is also located in the Mint.

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