Washington or Rittenhouse? 223 years ago Large Cent Coin

Today, the Large Cent Coin remembers the first cornerstone laid on July 31, 1792 of the first federal building under the new federal government.

Now, some historians claim David Rittenhouse laid the cornerstone. Other historian wrote that George Washington laid the stone.

Regardless, the first federal building began construction in 1792.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania published in 1917, Thomas Kilby Smith wrote:


On July 31, 1792, David Rittenhouse, the first director of the mint, laid the cornerstone of the first mint authorized by the Federal Government for public use. This was a plain brick building on Seventh Street near Arch, in Philadelphia, as was as a mint for forty years.


Similarly, in Jefferson County Pennsylvania, Her Pioneers and People published in 1917, William James McKnight, MD wrote:


The pioneer building erected in the United States for public use under the authority of the federal government was a structure for the United States mint. This was a plain brick edifice, on the east side of Seventh street, near Arch, in Philadelphia, Pa., the corner stone of which was laid by David Ritten- house, director of the mint, on July 31, 1792.

In the following October operations of coining commenced. This building was occupied for about forty years.

The first metal purchased for coinage was six pounds of old copper at one shilling and three pence per pound, which was coined and delivered to the treasurer in 1792.

The pioneer coinage of the United States consisted of silver half dimes, issued in October, 1792, of which Washington makes mention in his address to Congress, on November 6, 1792, as follows: “There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.”


In the Numismatist of August 1899, an article provided information about the Old Philadelphia Mint:


The first piece of property owned by Uncle Sam and the first United States mint was nearly destroyed the other day by a fierce fire, which broke out in the basement of this interesting and historic old building, which is situated at Nos. 37 and 39 North Seventh street, Philadelphia.

Fortunately the firemen were near at hand, and by their prompt response to the alarm and untiring efforts, the old, historic building was saved from complete destruction, and might yet be restored and placed in such a condition that it would be a splendid object lesson not only to the present generation, illustrating the wonderful growth of the wealth of the republic from a very small and modest beginning,

It seems almost incredible that within the recollection of living men this plain old structure represented the entire personal holdings and real estate security of our national government.

The history of the first mint of the United States began with the passage by congress of an act looking to the formation of such a necessary institution.

The initial step to put this act in operation was naturally the appointment of the officers of the institution, who should have charge of the establishment.

For the director of the mint, Washington selected David Rittenhouse, the astronomer, who received this appointment and accepted the position on the 1st of July, 1792. Henry Voigt, a watchmaker, was appointed chief coiner, and Tristom Dalton was made treasurer. In the succeeding year Albion Cox was appointed the chief assayer and Thomas Scott engraver.

The officers having been selected, the next important matter was to obtain a proper building for the accommodation of the machinery of the mint and the officers.

With this object in view, a lot on the east side of Seventh street, north of Farmers’ alley, now Filbert street, was purchased. There was an old still house and other buildings on the property.

These structures were quickly removed, and on the 31st of July, 1792, the corner stone was laid by Washington, a distinguished gathering of the leading men of the day being present.

The foundation stone in place, work was commenced on the building at once.

So rapidly for that period was the work pushed that the foundation was ready for the superstructure on, the 25th of August. The framework was raised on the afternoon of that day.

A few days later, on the 10th of September, 6 pounds of old copper were bought for the mint by Rittenhouse, at the rate of 1s 3d per pound, this, metal being the first ever purchased for the coinage of the United States.

Three coinage presses, imported from England, arrived on the 25th of September and were put in operation about the first of October.

In his message to congress, November 6, 1792, President Washington made the gratifying statement that a small coinage of half-dimes had been completed, “the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.”

Before the end of the first year after the opening of the mint, not only half dimes, but dimes and coppers, in sufficient quantity to meet the pressing needs of the country, had been coined.


The Large Cent Coin shows against views of that small three-story building that was the first federal constructed federal building and housed the first US Mint.

Large Cent Coin