Much of the change you carry around in your pocket started out as a roll of metal manufactured at the P-M-X plant in Cedar Rapids. Those rolls of metal are used to make coins at the U.S. Mint in Denver, Colorado. Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson took a tour of the mint recently, where public affairs specialist Jennifer DeBroekert pointed out a roll of metal from Cedar Rapids.
DeBroekert says there aren’t many manufacturers in the country who make this type of metal, so it’s easy to narrow down its origin. The large coil of metal is where the process starts. "We feed that large coil, that strip of metal, inside of the blanking press….it’s literally like a giant cookie cutter, it punches out about 14,000 blanks a minute," DeBroekert says.
Those blanks then go to another machine to become coins. DeBroekert says the blanks fall down a track and are struck by a set of steel dies on both sides. A press operator checks each of the coins to determine that they meet all the quality controls of the mint. If the coins don’t pass inspection, they are sent to another machine where they are flattened out into scrap.
Getting in to see the Iowa metal stamped into coins isn’t easy as the daily mint tours fill up fast. DeBroekert says there’s always been interest in the tours, which didn’t stop even after the September 11th attack. After the attack, she says you could only get a tour through your congressman, but that has changed and you can now sign up for a tour through their website. She says even with large groups, the tours fill up fast.
There are 50 people on each half-hour long guided tour. The Monday through Friday tours begin at eight a.m., and the last tour is at two o’clock. The tours add up to around 8,000 people each year. If you don’t get signed up for a tour, you can take your chances and show up early in the morning for a "standby" spot if someone doesn’t show up.
DeBroekert says standby tickets are just like the airlines, with no guarantee that you will get into a tour. If you are in a large group of 15 or more, you can call a special number on the website to make special reservations. You can find out more about tours of the mint through the U.S. Mint website here.