With the U.S. Mint releasing the first official United States coinage at a central production facility in 1793, our new nation’s monetary system became more organized and less confusing. That is, until the discovery of gold in North Carolina and Georgia. Miners often found gold in mountain streams in the form of gold dust. Imagine traveling the early American countryside, carrying dust as your currency. The gold dust did function locally as a valuable commodity worthy of trade for goods and services. However, it was obviously difficult to protect the dust from theft in areas with little in the way of official law and even more difficult to ship accumulations of gold back to the central Philadelphia based Mint location.
In 1830 an enterprising miner named Templeton Reid decided to illegally construct his own coin minting facility. Being far closer to the mining facilities, rogue minting operations became quickly successful. The Constitutional purpose of the U.S. Mint was to produce a uniform national currency. So, the government responded with a new Act in 1835 authorizing the construction of branch Mint facilities in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana. These facilities were to produce gold coins only. These new branch Mint’s gave mining operations much needed support and local trade far less confusing.
In 1849 our country experienced its second, even more significant Gold Rush in California. Being even further than the previous mining operations in the East, the gold found in California took an estimated 6 months to go from mined dust to minted coin. Again rogue private coin minting facilities cropped up to fill the demand for turning gold into currency. These operations often took the less legally risky approach of turning the mined gold into golden bars, called ingots. In 1854, the U.S. Government completed the San Francisco Mint branch to handle the huge demand for minting gold. Today, the San Francisco Mint primarily produces proof coins and coins for collectors rather that circulating coinage.
See this video for more detail on this fascinating time in U.S. Mint History.