Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

Building the U.S. Treasury

[photo: west wing of the U.S. Treasury under construction]

June 1862 – U.S. Treasury West Wing
Matthew Brady Collection,
National Archives, Washington

Built in five distinct phases, and begun in 1836, the present U.S. Treasury building is the longest continuously occupied government office in Washington, still occupied by the department for which it was built. The photo shows the construction of the U.S. Treasury's west wing, which faces the White House in Washington, D.C. All construction of new federal buildings had been halted prior to the Civil War, due to the emptiness of the U.S. Treasury's coffers following the great Panic (depression) of 1857, and due to sectional bickering between the southern and northern members of Congress.

Construction of the Treasury's west wing resumed in February of 1862. Four special burglar-proof vaults were constructed and installed in the west wing. These vaults are important to collectors, for they held coin and currency. Two on the entrance (second) floor were for the office of the treasurer, and two above them on the third floor, for the comptroller of the Treasury. These latter two held bonds and currency – including National Bank Notes before numbering and printing of the seals. Beginning in the fall of 1863, The treasurer and the comptroller of the currency worked together to implement the new National Banking System, initiated by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. The new system was to eliminate state-chartered banks and their bank notes, and replace them with notes issued by newly formed national banks.

[photo: Keystone (PA) Independent Light Artillery, 1862-63]

Keystone (PA) Independent Light Artillery, 1862-63
Matthew Brady Collection,
National Archives, Washington

The building seen just through the pillars at left is the old State Department building, built shortly after the British had burned the White House in 1814. When the east and center wings of the Treasury building were built from 1836 to 1842, the east wing connected to the old State Department building. The State Department building remained intact until 1866, when it was torn down so that the north wing of the Treasury building could be constructed.