New Orleans was founded by the French in 1718. It was a logical port and trading city at the southern mouth of the Mississippi River.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson finalized the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon for $15 million dollars and the vast land was annexed to the United States. The western frontier was now open for immigration, agriculture, and trade.
The Louisiana Purchase was—
- The greatest land deal in history
- Purchased from France for $15 million— only four cents an acre
- Secured the key port of New Orleans on the Mississippi
- Cotton, sugar, flour, tobacco, pork, cider, butter, and cheese were exported up the Mississippi River, around Florida to Eastern Cities… or exported to Mexico, England and Europe.
By 1812, Louisiana was admitted to the Union as a slave state. That year, Robert Fulton made the first steam-powered riverboat trip from Pittsburgh to Mississippi. His steamship the “New Orleans” was a turning point in Mississippi River travel. The steamship played a key role in the American industrial revolution and the New Orleans Mint.
Where there’s newly created wealth and commerce, there’s a need for money to exchange hands— both Gold Coins and Silver.
A large amount of Gold passed through New Orleans ports— payments from export trade, from natural gold deposits in nearby Alabama and large imports of Silver and Gold each year from Mexico.
The Western Frontier Needed a Mint
The purpose of an official mint was to take in raw Gold (or Silver) refine it, standardize the purity, then create a Legal Tender coin easily recognized by citizens and foreign traders alike.
In New Orleans, each coin would bear the official designs of that size coinage, the denomination, the year of mintage and an “O” Mint mark
New Orleans, Louisiana 1838-1909, “O” mint mark.
In 1830, New Orleans was a primary port of entry for expansion into Texas and the Wild West frontier. During these days, there was an acute shortage of hard currency in the form of U.S. Mint Gold Coins.
By this time, the Philadelphia Mint was striking Gold coins at full capacity, yet unable to mint enough Gold Coins needed for trade in a growing America. To resolve the Gold coining problem on the Western Frontier, Congress decreed that a new branch mint be opened in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The New Orleans facility was clearly the most colorful of all branch mints, having struck Legal Tender for the United States, the State of Louisiana, and the Confederacy. Because collectors search out coins with an interesting history or that exhibit special credentials, collectors love U.S. Mint coins with the “O” mint mark from the famous New Orleans Mint.
Today, the U.S. Mint in New Orleans is the site of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, a fitting historical site.