Denver, capital of Colorado, is the largest city for miles around. But how did it get to be home to a US government Mint facility?
Times were hard in Denver's early days, the late 1850s. Even when poor settlers began to find gold, it was hard to sell because there weren't many coins around. Soon, in place of money, people used gold dust and nuggets—a tough way to shop.
But then two brothers named Clark and their partner, E.H. Gruber, started Clark, Gruber and Company, a bank and mint. (At that time, it was not against the law for people outside the government to make coins.) Though the new business made coins for only one year (1860 to 1861), it produced about $600,000 in gold coins.
Gruber and the Clarks sold the company to the U.S. government in 1863. But for close to 50 years after, no coins were made there. The facility only bought gold and silver for the Treasury and acted as an assay office.
By the 1890s, the Denver facility was bringing in more than five and a half million dollars worth of gold and silver every year. But the building was decaying and was too small for minting operations. Congress set aside money for a new plot of land in 1895.
Congress had a grand new building built in 1904 and, in 1906 (its first working year as a real Mint), the Denver Mint released more than 167 million coins.
Today, the Denver Mint makes about 40 million coins...in one day! The Mint produces spending coins, collecting coins, and dies used in making coins and medals. It also stores gold and silver. It is one of the largest and most modern coin-making facilities in the world.
The story of why a United States Mint facility was needed in Denver goes back to about 1850, when some miners found gold in Colorado, then part of Kansas Territory. The Gold Rush didn't begin then because the miners who found the gold didn't even stop to claim it! They were only passing through on their way to search for gold in California. But the news spread quickly each time gold was found in this area around Pike's Peak.
During the late 1850s, times were hard all around the country. Many banks and businesses had to close and many people lost their homes, farms, savings, and jobs. These troubles, combined with the desire to "strike it rich," fanned the flames of "Gold fever."
As the rivers of gold dried up in California, fortune seekers from all the states settled in the Denver area to seek their fortune, starting in 1858.
Although some of the poor settlers began to find the precious metal they came looking for, there weren't many coins around. Since people had trouble getting coins for their gold dust and nuggets, they started using the raw gold in place of money. Almost everyone carried a gold purse (or "poke") and a pocket scale for weighing the dust.
Using gold dust to buy things was a lot of trouble. But making the gold into coins was also hard. The gold had to be shipped east, where the coin-making facilities were then located. That trip was dangerous (because of robbers), long (by ox cart or stagecoach, it could take months), and expensive (the stagecoach lines charged a lot of money to ship, in both directions).
For a while, even a bag of gold couldn't buy a simple coin!
Three men—brothers Austin and Milton Clark and their partner, E.H. Gruber—started a banking and coining business called Clark, Gruber and Company. (In those days, coins could be made by anyone, not just the government.) People liked this company because they could have their gold turned into coins there instead of having to pay the stagecoach fare to and from federal facilities in the East.
In 1860, Clark, Gruber & Co. put up a two-story brick building in the new city of Denver—a very fine building in a town where most of the homes were made of logs or canvas (cloth) with dirt floors. Soon Colorado gold was flowing through this new bank and coin-making business.
The company's first coins were minted on July 4, 1860 at the rate of about fifteen or twenty coins a minute. During its short time as a coining company, Clark, Gruber and Company produced about $600,000 in gold coins. The coins were called quarter eagles (marked $2.50), half eagles ($5), eagles ($10), and double eagles ($20).
In 1861, Colorado lawmakers were ready to have the federal government open a facility in Denver, and the owners of Clark, Gruber and Company were happy to sell their business. The US government bought it in 1863 (during the Civil War). But for close to 50 years, the facility at Denver made no coins. It only did the work of an assay office (where gold and silver are melted, weighed, checked for purity, and cast into bars that are then stamped with their weight and quality).
During that time, as miners searched the rivers for gold, a heavy black sand kept getting in the way. Finally, someone had the "sand" assayed. It was silver! From 1872 to 1899, Colorado (which had become a state by then) produced more silver than gold.
By the 1890s, the assay office at Denver was bringing in more than five and a half million dollars worth of gold and silver every year. In 1895, Congress decided to have a new building erected in Denver. The building opened in 1904.
The new building, made to look like an Italian palace, was much grander than the old one. And, now that it was creating coins, the Denver Mint was a real Mint.
As World War II was taking shape in 1934, having the nation's gold in San Francisco, so close to the ocean, seemed pretty risky. To keep it safe, it was moved inland by mail. Two and a half billion dollars in bullion (gold bricks) was mailed from the San Francisco Mint to the Denver Mint that fall, with another billion or so added just before the war broke out.
This was probably the largest shipment of gold in the history of the world—an enormous task! It took 75 mail cars on 25 trains to do the job. And if you think a stamp costs a lot today, think about the postage charges for this Parcel Post "package": $547,695.
It was also a dangerous move. But the Army, Postal Service, railroad company, local police, Secret Service, and Treasury all worked together to guard the shipment. The gold was delivered to Denver without any problems.