Back to Basics: Where Does Our Money Come From?

Ever think about where the money in your wallet is actually produced? With the rise of technology like Venmo and digital currency like Bitcoin, some think it might be a matter of time before coins and bills go obsolete.

I mean how many of us like to carry coins anyways? I only really value quarters because I need them to do my laundry. The rest is meh.

Much how vegans want everyone to know where their meat comes from, I as a personal finance junkie (and Together We Money blog founder) wanted to find out just where is my money made.

That’s why this past June I decided to actually take advantage of the cool things to do in my city of Philadelphia and head over to the U.S. Mint Philadelphia Facility located at 151 N Independence Mall E. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and here is why you should head over and check it out too.

For starters, it’s FREE! Yes, you can learn about money without spending money. Good deal, right?

When you get to the location, security will have you go through metal detectors and scan your items so my suggestion is to pack lightly so you can avoid that nonsense.

When you walk in, you will see an information center on your left and a gift shop on your right.

And damn, when I say they can make a million Mint mementos I mean it! Pens, candy, t-shirts, the whole sha-bang. I used the penny smushing machine (I’m sure there is a real word for it), to make a souvenir (pictured below).

When you walk up the stairs to the second floor you see a bunch of items from the Mint’s history and there you can check out a short video of how coins were first made and the changes implemented to enhance the process today.

After that floor you climb up another set of stairs to get to the good stuff! There you walk through the craftsmanship required at all stages of the minting process, from the original designs and sculptures to the actual striking of the coins.

Here are a few cool things I learned:

  • The total coins made so far this year is 6,139,313,000. There was a clock that looked like a stopwatch and it was literally increasing by hundreds a second. Therefore, this number is no longer accurate but nonetheless it’s fascinating!
  • The Mint can make 1 million coins in 30 minutes.
  • The average lifespan of a coin is 30 years whereas a paper bill is five years.
  • Real silver hasn’t been used since 1965.
  • The force required to strike a nickel is equivalent to the weight of 16 elephants, the bite strength of 157 great white sharks, or the impact of three high speed trains weighing 200,000 lbs. at 130 mph.
You know how each state has its own quarter? Well that program took 10 years to develop, starting in 1999. Once designed, the coins were only printed for 10 weeks. (So, hold onto your Alabama!)

During the tour you can look through windows down to the manufacturing floor to see all of the employees at work as well as the conveyor belt which moves the coins along each step of the process. It’s pretty neat! More than 1,600 employees work at six United States Mint facilities.

I also found it interesting how it talked about the people who’s careers are to design coins. Many of them graduated from local universities.

Once you go through the self-guided part you are all done. It takes about 30-60 minutes depending on how much content you read. So not a super long event which makes it fun if you have kids with low attention spans.

Not in Philadelphia? No worries, you can still check out these other locations:

  • San Francisco, CA – Production Facility
  • Denver, CO – Production Facility
  • West Point, NY – Production Facility
  • Fort Knox, KY – Bullion Depository
  • Washington, DC – Headquarters

The only major bummer about this tour is that you cannot take pictures. That’s why mine are only of the outside of the building (or from their website.)

Image Source: usmint.gov

In conclusion I found this event to be really worthwhile and interesting to learn about. Fun for all ages, it’s always cool to get back to basics and know how our hard earned money actually makes it’s way into our pockets.

If you want to check out other historic sights nearby there is Benjamin Franklin’s grave, Betsy Ross’ house, and more. See a full list here.

Have you been to any of the Mint locations before? What did you think?

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