The E-Sylum:  Volume 4, Number 49, December 2, 2001, Article 7


  In response to last week's item about layoffs at the U.S.
  Mint, David Lange writes:

  "The U.S. Mint has had a number of layoff periods,
  typically following unnatural increases in production. I
  reported these as incidental notes in "The Complete Guide
  to Lincoln Cents".  Such information was taken from the
  Annual Report of the Director of the Mint.

  At the close of Fiscal Year 1918 (July 1, 1917 through
  June 30, 1918) the number of employees was up
  dramatically due to America's wartime economy:
  Philadelphia had 499 employees,  Denver 92 and San
  Francisco 178. (The Mint Bureau also had a number of
  employees at various assay offices and at its Washington
  DC headquarters, but the figures for the coining mints are
  usually more instructive.)  Compare these numbers to
  those of FY1912: Philadelphia, 356; Denver 100 and
  San Francisco, 138.

  The payroll rose again in FY1919, only to fall by a total
  of 117 employees for the entire bureau in FY1920.
  Director Raymond T. Baker noted that this was due in
  part to a drop-off in the demand for additional coins as
  the war ended.  However, he further added that the
  wartime inflation (just about 100%) had rendered Mint
  salaries and wages woefully inadequate and that such
  poor compensation made the retention of trained workers
  quite difficult:  "Your committee beg to suggest that the
  peculiar kind of service rendered by the employees of the
  mint commands a greater return for the skill demanded,
  and we recommend that the schedule of wages and salary,
  which in some instances has remained the same for a
  period of more than 37 years, be submitted to the proper
  authorities with a view of providing a basis of pay
  commensurate with the service rendered."

  After a sharp recession during 1921-23, demand for
  additional coins picked  up during FY1924 (July 1, 1923
  to June 30, 1924). Though the number of employees
  should have risen from the immediate postwar period,
  both congress and the president were very conservative
  in their budgeting during the 1920s, and all government
  offices were at bare minimum staffing. (This penny pinching
  is likely the cause of the poorly made coins from that period,
  since dies were obviously used beyond the point at which
  they should have been removed from the presses.) By
  FY1927, total staffing at the Mint Bureau was up to just
  652 persons.

  The onset of the Depression brought the Mint's payroll to
  its lowest levels of the 20th Century. At the close of FY1933,
  just 538 employees were on hand at all facilities combined.
  Activity rose in each of the successive years, with the number
  of employees rising to 783 in FY1936. World War II brought
  about an even greater increase: At the close of FY1946, there
  were a whopping 2547 employees!  These included many
  women and minorities, who had been largely excluded to that
  point, though women had formerly been used to adjust
  planchets during the 19th Century.

  Such growth was rapidly reversed as a post-war recession
  set in.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on November 16,
  1947 that "Approximately 200 employees of the Philadelphia
  Mint, 16th and Spring Garden streets, were laid off at the
  close of the work week yesterday. Edwin H. Dressel,
  superintendent, said the employees furloughed will be recalled
  'as soon as new orders for coins are received.' The Mint,
  which reached an all-time peak of about 2,600 employees
  during the war, has now about 600 employees, a normal
  figure, he said" Given that there were so many strikes during
  the inflationary postwar period, William Fehlinger, president
  of the American Federation of Government Employees, felt
  compelled to add that this reduction was normal and did
  not reflect any labor unrest.

  Beginning around 1950, the U.S. Mint began exploring ways
  to reduce the number of steps involved in producing coins and
  thus the number of employees, too.  This increased automation,
  however, came at a high cost regarding the quality of coinage
  struck during the 1950s.  While the number of employees was
  reduced significantly only with the cessation of coining at the
  San Francisco Mint on March 31, 1955, the appearance of
  the new coins being produced was reduced so obviously that
  collectors of the time commented on it in the numismatic press.
  Overuse of dies and inadequate heat treatment of the die steel
  were to blame, rather than the overall reduction of employees,
  but the cost-cutting mentality in Washington was the root
  cause of both phenomena.  The severe coin shortage of the
  early 1960s laid to rest the immediate concern of budget
  reduction, and the payroll rose once again.  True automation
  of the coining process didn't arrive until the Mint began
  outsourcing its supply of planchets and strip, a process that
  led to a reduction of new hires but few, if any, layoffs.

  The recent round of employees reductions was probably
  inevitable after the booming economy of the 90s ground to
  a near halt.  This fact, combined with the state quarters
  program and an overly optimistic projection for the
  Sacagawea dollar's success, had led to additional hirings, and
  things are just now getting back to more normal production."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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