Amidst the National Constitution Center, renowned seamstress Betsy Ross’s house, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall sits one of Philadelphia’s hidden treasures. Literally.
Situated two blocks north of Independence Hall at 5th and Arch streets, is the Philadelphia branch of the U.S. Mint. The Mint will celebrate its 212th birthday on April 2.
“The U.S. Mint applies world-class business practices in making, selling, and protecting our nation’s coinage and assets,” the Mint’s Web site states its mission statement. But, the Philadelphia Mint is much more than a money factory. It’s a historic landmark.
On April 2, 1792, Congress passed the Coinage Act, a ruling that established a national Mint and authorized the construction of the Mint building at the nation’s Philadelphia capital. It was the first building erected under the new constitution.
The Mint was finished in the fall of 1792 and by March 1793, it had produced 11,178 copper cents. David Rittenhouse, namesake for the posh Center City square and famous scientist, was appointed as the Mint’s first director where he served for three years.
An 1828 act made Philadelphia the permanent home for the U.S. Mint. Soon afterwards, the Mint outgrew its original location and after several moves, took its final residence in 1969.
From the days of a night guard and a dog as security, the Mint now requires visitors to go through metal detectors, while all personal items are checked through an X-ray machine. Backpacks and other carriers are not allowed within premises.
However, strict security has not stopped interested visitors.
“Both children and adults are interested in attending the U.S. Mint,” said Amy Bielicki, Director of Marketing at the Independence Visitor’s Center, noting that 1.7 million people visit the center annually.
The Mint is also home to Peter, the Mint Eagle, who has been the official mascot since the 1800s. According to historian John Francis Marion, Peter perched so often on the Mint that it became his home.
While perched on a flywheel, it unexpectedly started, catching his wing. He later died, but was mounted and still sits at the Mint today. Legend claims he was the model for the eagle on the U.S. Silver Dollar and the Flying Eagle cents.
To find out more about Philadelphia’s Mint, plan a tour for a group of six or less by contacting a local senator or representative. Allow two weeks for processing.
The Mint, offering self-guided tours, is open from September through May, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During the summer months the Mint is also open on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (215) 408-0112.
Sara Getz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org