Steam-Powered Coin Press

Photo of Coin Press.

The Franklin Institute's collections include the first "powered" coining press to be used at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. Thonnelier invented the press in France in 1833. It was operated by steam, while earlier presses were operated by hand. Philadelphians Merrick, Agnew, and Tyler imported the press in 1836. When it arrived in Philadelphia, Franklin Peale of the U.S. Mint made improvements to this model. The coining press was first operated on March 22, 1836.

Robert Maskell Patterson, the director of the Mint from 1835 to 1851, wrote the following report to President Andrew Jackson in 1837:

"On the 23rd of March last (1836), the first steam coinage in America was executed at this Mint; and the performance of the press, in which the power of the lever is substituted for that of the screw, has answered all our expectations. Since that time, all the copper coins have been struck by this press, and it has been lately used with success for coining half dollars. The workmen are now engaged in making other steam presses; and as these are completed, the coining by human labor be abandoned, and the work that can be executed in...the Mint will be greatly increased."

There is some discrepancy about the date that appears on some of the U.S. Mint coins. One token that was printed says, "United States Mint, First Steam Coinage, Feb. 22, 1836." According to Director Patterson's report, however, March 23 is the correct date. Perhaps some coins were printed in advance, or February 22 was the date planned for the first printing. It also may have be chosen to coincide with George Washington's birthday, but delay or postponement ensued and the coining press wasn't operated until March 23. The February 22 coins were never recalled.