The Casa de Moneda is the Mexican Mint. This facility is where the Mexican government produced all of its coins between 1848 and 1992. The coins and metals produced in this factory were of such extraordinary quality that they are recognized throughout the world.
Established in 1535, the Casa de Moneda is the oldest mint in the Americas. Today, the facility is an interesting museum with all of its former machinery intact. In the early 1990’s, the facility was deemed “too great a polluter” and the factory was moved to another location. Now, mannequins in uniform stand at machines and demonstrate how workers dressed and worked when the factory was operational.
The Mint is located in the historic downtown section of DF. There’s no sign on the door and tours are available by appointment only. If you didn’t know the museum was there, you would walk past it unknowingly.
The largely untouched 4-block-complex welcomes you with a hacienda style courtyard surrounded by detailed iron work. Our guide was a former union worker who had worked at the factory when it was operational. He skillfully demonstrated several pieces of equipment and coin/medal production. At the end of the tour each attendee received a coin that our guide made during our visit!
During our tour, the coin making process was explained, as was the modernization of the facility from steam power to electricity. Our guide explained that coin production begins with a simple sketch. The design is then put on a computer for measurement. Afterwards, a model is molded out of clay, then silicon. After a mold is created, it is then filled with epoxy and a hard design is created. This process takes between 4-8 work days! From this, a die is created and coins are produced. One die makes about 15,000 coins.
The tour was quite enjoyable. After visiting the formal museum, we passed through a large steel door and entered a large Charles-Dickens looking workspace. All of the machines on the factory floor date back to the turn-of-the-century (most from 1905) and are still in perfect operating condition.
Standing on the factory floor and listening to the lives and working conditions of the workers was incredible. The walls are still covered with soot. Cauldrons are laid out throughout the room, and manequins in aprons hover over each station demonstrating different roles and responsibilities.
Workers at the Mint were used to being hot. The materials they used were 1,200 degrees centigrade. One drop of metal on their skin would burn through their skin. Their joints hurt all of the time from the constant change in temperature, and they used wool aprons dipped in water to protect themselves. Fingers frequently got squashed, workers frequently got burned and routines were established so that workers could manage through the challenges of working in such a hot, dangerous place. On Mondays and Tuesdays the workers took aspirin because their body temperatures were so high from the heat from the factory floor. By Wednesday their bodies had adjusted to the heat and fever tended to go away. When aches and pains from the heat or the work hit, workers would pay local kids to collect bees. They would use the bees to sting them in an effort to offset or displace the pain from their bones.
Amazingly, only about 200-300 people worked at the Mint. Workers earned 80 cents a day! This was a lot of money, as many people only earned 80 cents a month, at the time. Not surprisingly, there was only one woman ever employed at the factory–and she was the secretary!
Despite the fact that the factory has not been operational since 1992, there was still a smell of metal production and the room was covered in black soot. Our guide told us that after working at the Mint, he has the lungs of a smoker, though he has never smoke a day in his life.
Given the difficult working conditions and health problems that undoubtedly arose as a result of working in the factory, it was very surprising to me that there was no more than three percent loss at the factory. Workers were well treated, and received 4 liters of pulque (alcohol) a day to deal with the strain. At the end of the year, they also received a profit sharing of sorts: all of the trash went into the furnace and all of the metal left over from the incineration of the year’s trash was distributed equally amongst the workers.
The tour was fantastic. I made the boy go because I wanted him to understand that not all tasks can be completed with the push of a button. I think he left the tour understanding that some people have to work very hard for their money and endure unpleasant conditions to create better lives and opportunities for their families. To that end, it was a successful outing. I would highly recommend visiting Casa Moneda!