The Coinage Act, passed by the United States Congress on April 2, 1792, created the United States dollar as the country’s standard unit of money, established the United States Mint, and regulated the coinage of the United States. The long title of the legislation is An act establishing a mint, and regulating the Coins of the United States. This act established the silver dollar as the unit of money in the United States, declared it to be lawful tender, and created a decimal system for U.S. currency.
By the Act, the Mint was to be situated at the seat of government of the United States. The five original officers of the U.S. Mint were a Director, an Assayer, a Chief Coiner, an Engraver, and a Treasurer. The Act also allowed that one person could perform the functions of Chief Coiner and Engraver.
The Act pegged the newly created United States dollar to the value of the widely used Spanish silver dollar (8 reales), saying it was to have “the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current”.
Although some of the provisions in the 1792 Coinage Act were adjusted as time went by, the majority of the rules specified in this Act remained in effect for many decades. Essentially, it provided the basic framework on which all subsequent coinage production was based. While the first draft of the Act stipulated that all coins would employ a portrait of the president on the obverse, the final version called for an image emblematic of liberty as well as the word “Liberty“. The Act also authorized construction of a mint building in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital. This was the first federal building erected under the United States Constitution.
On May 8, 1792 An Act to Provide For a Copper Coinage was signed into law by President George Washington. This legislation resulted in the birth of the copper cent, from which descends today’s one cent piece. The Act also stipulated that “the director of the mint… be authorized to contract for and purchase a quantity of copper, not exceeding one hundred and fifty tons… to be coined at the mint into cents and half-cents… and be paid into the treasury of the United States, thence to issue into circulation.” Furthermore, “no copper coins or pieces whatsoever except the said cents and half-cents, shall pass current as money, or shall be paid, or offered to be paid or received in payment for any debt, demand, claims, matter or thing whatsoever.”