In Colonial Philadelphia, it took coiners three years to strike 1 million coins. Today, the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia can make that many in the time it takes to watch a 30-minute TV show.
How does it happen? You won’t find out sitting around the TV. The best way is to stop by the Philadelphia Mint and take their free tour. Bring your kids or grandchildren. They’ll love seeing all the coins from 40 feet above the factory floor and they’ll remember it forever.
On the downside, you and your kiddos will have to pass through a metal detector to start things off. Don’t forget your government-issued photo ID. Do forget your camera. They’re not allowed for security reasons. On the upside, you can primer your visit with this and more articles to come about the Philadelphia Mint.
We visited the Philadelphia Mint earlier this month for a private tour after similar trips to the San Francisco Mint and West Point Mint. Since we were there, we also went on the public tour. We enjoyed it twice — once like everyone else with the same security restrictions and another time with U.S. Mint officials so we had permission to snap some of the photos you’ve already seen as well as the larger ones below. These photos offer some insights on what you can look forward to when visiting the Mint, with upcoming CoinNews.net articles and photos offering information about what goes on behind the scenes.
Last year about 220,000 people went on the Philadelphia Mint public tour after it re-opened on July 3, 2012 following a six-month renovation project. The new tour created a hubbub in numismatic circles with visitor reviews overwhelmingly positive.
Reviews this year remain equally strong. To get to that point, the U.S. Mint contracted Quatrefoil Associates and spent $3.9 million to modernize the tour area for the first time since 1969. At a cost of about $250 per sq. foot, they got a bang for their buck. Much of the tour is museum-like, yet museum space often costs $500/sq. foot.
What to Expect on the Philadelphia Mint Public Tour
You can take as long as you like since the tour is self-guided. A thorough visit will consume about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. If you’re a coin collector, plan on the two hours. If you bring younger children and prefer a quicker trip, you could get a good one in about 45 minutes.
Starting with the lobby and moving up to the second-floor mezzanine, the experience has a warm museum feel and is most enjoyed by older children and adults. Here there are exhibits with mixings of coins, medals, plaster models and other artifacts with some dating back to the Mint’s very beginnings.
Descriptions and information about the Philadelphia Mint, its history, and exhibit contents are readily displayed. There’s also the David Rittenhouse Theater, named after the first Director of the United States Mint. Inside a short film traverses time as Founding Fathers discuss the pros and cons of creating American coinage. It ends with the April 2, 1792 passage of Coinage Act which established the U.S. Mint.
Get ready for some walking to view the factory floor. It’s worth it. Kids really take to this section of the tour. We could hear their excited chatter during our visits and watched them work the many interactive displays. While here, there’s no doubt you’re at the largest coin manufacturing facility in the world. The Philadelphia Mint sits on a city block. From 40 feet above, you’ll walk along one side of the plant and then make the return trip from the other side. That’s two blocks of activity.
Throughout this third-floor Gallery, you can look down and see robotic machinery in action. The factory tour is divided into color-coded areas to help identify the coin and medal making process with displays describing everything that’s happening below. Stages include artwork creation, die making, blanking, annealing and upsetting, striking, inspecting and bagging coins. Touchable examples are found along the tour to include plaster models, blanks, master hubs, dies, coins and coin errors. There are also many video and audio touch screen stations that let you dive deeper and watch the coinage process up close.
Let’s take a quick photo tour of some the tour exhibits.
Philadelphia Mint Tour Photos
What Photos are Missing?
Noticeably absent from the photos above are shots from the Gallery looking down to the factory floor. For security reasons, we were not allowed to take photos from these views. They are a highlight of the tour, showing the immensity of the factory and what happens there every day. Though we could not take photos from above, we did take them directly on the factory floor during our private tour. Stay tuned to CoinNews.net for these photos and more articles about the Mint.
If you’re looking to buy some coins or medals produced from the Philadelphia Mint or from the other U.S. Mint facilities, stop at the gift shop.
Located on the main floor in the lobby, exiting the tour takes your right through the gift shop. It’s one of the few places where you can buy a U.S. Mint product and immediately walk out with it in hand.
Tips in Planning Your Philadelphia Mint Tour
More than 4 billion coins have already come out of the Philadelphia Mint this year. The pace is the quickest since before the Great Recession, yet well under the Mint’s capacity. That means the factory floor will be humming with activity on some days but not on others.
We went on two different days and the experience was different for each. As an example, one day we saw how blanks were cut from massively large sheets of metal. It was a highlight. The other day these machines were silent.
Here are a few tips to plan your visit:
Visit the Mint’s tour page for updated tour hours and information. This Mint webpage also has a handy Tour Guide you can download. It’s the same brochure you’ll find at the beginning of the tour.
Remember, all visitors must go through a metal detector so plan accordingly.
Try getting there in the morning. You’ll likely get the chance to see more activity on the factory floor.
There are days that the tour is open on holidays, notably Memorial Day and Labor Day, but the factory floor is shut down. It’s also closed on many Fridays and all Saturdays. The tour is very good without anything happening on the floor, but your kids will enjoy it much more when the Mint is striking coins or medals.
Once inside, there is no photography, no smoking and no eating or drinking.
Finally, within a short distance from the Mint are other sites worth seeing, like:
the Liberty Bell,
Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed, and
Benjamin Franklin’s grave.
There’s also the Money in Motion Exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. We had high hopes for this one but were, frankly, disappointed in the experience.
Next Article in Series About the Philadelphia Mint
Stay tuned to CoinNews.net for an in-depth series of photos and articles about the Philadelphia Mint. The first one is scheduled for Friday, September 6. It will discuss coin designs and sculpting. Others will include die making, producing coins and striking bullion and collectible America the Beautiful Five Ounce Silver Coins.