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The Story of the Two Greatest Gold Shipments In The History of the United States Mints

by Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald from the California Numismatist

Twice within a span of almost twenty-five years, all of the gold from the vaults of the 2nd San Francisco Mint, sometimes called the “Granite Lady,” was sent to the United States Mint in Denver, Colorado. Yet the story of these two operations could not have been more different. The first transfer was accomplished with so much secrecy that even the newspapers knew nothing of what was going on. But the second transfer was so well publicized that it included parades and search-lights calling attention to the shipments. This is the story of these two great shipments of gold.

The Very Secret Gold Transfer of 1908

In May 1897 newspaper editor and publisher Frank A. Leach accepted a political appointment by President McKinley to become the superintendent of the San Francisco Mint. He had wanted to divest himself of the newspaper business and this seemed like an ideal new career. Leach assumed his duties on August 1, 1897.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fires

It was a typical dawn in the Bay Area. Without warning a shaking of the earth occurred. It was 5:12 a.m. Wednesday, April 18, 1906! The “Great San Francisco Earthquake,” as it became known, was followed within seconds by a violent shaking that ruptured numerous gas lines resulting in dozens of fires. At the same time it was discovered the city’s water mains had been damaged. San Francisco, surrounded on three sides by water, could not battle the flames with water.

Just two years after the famous 1906 earthquake left the San Francisco mint’s surroundings in shambles, concerns about the mint’s storage capacity and security prompted the move of 331 million dollars worth of bullion to the mint in Denver.

Frank Leach made his way from his home in Oakland to the mint and, together with 50 mint employees and a squad of 10 soldiers, prepared to fight the inferno and save the mint. However, at the beginning of the struggle, the outcome was very much in doubt. The battle lasted for hours but shortly before 5:00 p.m. the fires were out and the building was saved. The men were able to leave the mint, return to their homes and reunite with their families.

More importantly for our story, the mint’s basement vaults that contained millions of dollars of gold and silver coins were saved. (more…)