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Did the U.S. Mint Show Us How to Deal with Pandemics?

An article today reminds us lack of widespread disease is the exception in human history.  Thankfully, current conditions are tame compared to hardships our Ancestors endured.

Philadelphia Arch Street Wharf
1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic. The Arch Street wharf, where the first cluster of cases was identified.

How one federal agency took care of its workers during the yellow fever pandemic in the 1790s” describes how the U.S. Mint coped.

yellow fever became epidemic in the Caribbean islands and grew into a pandemic… that reached the US Capital, Philadelphia, in 1793.

The outbreaks shut down businesses, suspended court sessions, and drove residents to flee… A a flour miller summed up …: “I want to be doing something, but the Fever in Philadelphia has thrown us all out of our Geers.”

To protect the currency supply, the director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia suspended operations during each outbreak of yellow fever…  he put workers on furlough with a guarantee of half pay for the two to three months that yellow fever lasted.  This policy …  was applied six times over eight years.

Most workers received their pay after the outbreak, but highly skilled workers at the rank of officer could obtain their full quarterly pay in advance. Then, as now, the financial pains of a pandemic did not hit all classes equally. [i]

…The disease probably was brought by refugees and mosquitoes on ships from Saint-Domingue. It rapidly spread in the port city, in the crowded blocks along the Delaware River. About 5000 people died, ten percent of the population of 50,000.[ii]

While U.S. Mint workers maintained vital money production, the most of the US government fled the city.

Ironically, the outbreak likely hastened moving the US Capital to Washington DC in 1800. Mosquito hoards that vectored yellow fever thrived in the wetlands around the new capital. . Combined with Typhoid fever, pandemics plagued Washington, DC and many coastal cities for a century.

Typical was a yellow fever 1862 outbreak in Wilmington, NC – …more than half of the city’s population left for the North Carolina interior during the epidemic. Of the 4,000 who remained, 650 died of the disease.  In his diary, Wilmington resident Nicholas Schenck described “a panic to get away – citizens and family – going in all directions … Every body – who could get away – left town… When Nicolas Schenck fled the city for Warsaw, NC, some sixty miles to the north, he found “every hotel quarantined against us – coming from Wilmington.” ⁱⁱⁱ

If you have a strong stomach, see the symptoms of yellow fever .⁴ Our current distress is mild by comparison, hopefully shorter, and certain to be reined in. Commercial and government workers in science, medicine, services, and industry will accomplish that – not Politicians lusting to get their mug on a coin.


[i]  http://theconversation.com/how-one-federal-agency-took-care-of-its-workers-during-the-yellow-fever-pandemic-in-the-1790s-134297

ⁱⁱ  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_yellow_fever

ⁱⁱⁱ http://www.civilwarmed.org/yellow-fever-refugee-crisis/

https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1022&context=mhr – Page 4

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