By Lynn Black
May 24, 2022
May marks the 85th anniversary of the third San Francisco Mint building. Built during the height of the Great Depression, the San Francisco Mint sits on a rocky promontory that towers over the nearby streets.
Construction of the U.S. Mint site in San Francisco was a Works Progress Administration (New Deal) project under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Great Depression, the federal works program took millions of needy unemployed men and women from the relief roles and put them to work at useful public tasks.
The federal government purchased the site in 1934 for $82,500. Engineers made numerous tests on the site to prepare plans for an earthquake-proof structure. Construction began on August 21, 1935, starting with leveling a 90-foot rock precipice down to 50 feet above the street. Designed by Gilbert Underwood, the structure is a modern classical design with a frieze depicting numismatic history of the country. The building was completed at a cost of $1,072,254, and was dedicated on May 15, 1937.
The new facility took over the production of circulating coinage, as well as occasional commemorative coins from the legendary “Old Mint” located at Fifth and Mission Streets in downtown San Francisco. The San Francisco Mint also played an important role in international monetary history as it occasionally coined money for various nations in Asia and Latin America.
In 1955, all coining operations in San Francisco were suspended as an economy measure, and with no expectation of resuming coining operations. The facility was changed by Act of Congress from a “Mint” to an “Assay Office” on July 11, 1962. However, just three years later, in the midst of a serious coin shortage, limited coining functions resumed.
In 1968, after a three-year suspension of all mint marks (a move to discourage coin hoarding) the celebrated “S” reappeared. The San Francisco Mint took over annual proof coin set production from the Philadelphia Mint, and continued to also strike supplemental circulating coinage through 1974.
In a reversal of their 1962 action, Congress re-designated the facility back to a Mint by Public Law 100-274, approved on March 31, 1988.
Today, dedicated Mint employees have catapulted operations into the future by applying “Lean” manufacturing principals and by the introduction of advanced technologies such as robotics, vision systems, and lasers.
The men and women of the San Francisco Mint are proud to be a part of a tradition of excellence and performance. How many other organizations can boast a 168 year history and represent it with the oldest U.S. mint mark currently in use?
See more Inside the Mint articles.