The United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox is a part of American history, bordering on mythology and legend.
Located in Kentucky and made of thousands of tons of concrete, granite, and steel, this vault houses 147.3 million troy ounces of gold worth over $6 billion. These numbers are based on the asset’s book value which was fixed in 1973 — the gold in Fort Knox is likely worth closer to $190 billion by today’s standards.
Interestingly, gold isn’t the only valuable asset stored in Fort Knox, and it isn’t even the only gold bullion reserve of its kind.
History of Fort Knox
Fort Knox was constructed in 1936 and is renowned as one of the most secure facilities in the United States. Even though the building is almost 100 years old, it’s still structurally sound and considered impenetrable; the roof is bomb-proof and the main vault door is 21 inches thick and weighs over 20 tons.
The first gold shipment arrived at Fort Knox in 1937 via train from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, surrounded by a retinue of soldiers. Since then, the highest historic gold holdings at Fort Knox were recorded at nearly 650 million troy ounces on December 31, 1941.
One of the reasons Fort Knox is considered so clandestine is because visitors are not permitted in the facility — not even U.S. presidents. Only President Franklin D. Roosevelt and authorized personnel were ever granted permission to access the vaults, until September 23, 1974. To quell rumors that gold at Fort Knox had been stolen, the vault was opened for a rare visit from a Congressional delegation and a group of journalists.
The only other time the vault has been opened for visits from non-authorized personnel was on August 24th, 2017, when Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and a host of Congressional representatives visited the vault.
While Fort Knox has one of the largest gold reserves in the world, holding the equivalent of 4,600 tons, this is only a portion of the world’s reserves. In all, there are 34,700 tons of gold held by various nations across the world, based on numbers from January 2020, and it is estimated that only 25 nations hold over 80% of the world’s national gold reserves. Additionally, the world’s gold supply is expected to increase due to higher gold mine production in Australia, the U.S., and Canada.
Why Store Gold?
All of the gold in Fort Knox is owned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and is held there for several reasons. The fact that the United States used to back its dollar using the gold standard is why there is so much of this specific asset held there. Interestingly, though, the 147.3 million troy ounces of gold housed at Fort Knox are not worth nearly as much compared to the U.S.’s $13.8 trillion GDP. With that in mind, and considering the U.S. hasn’t used the gold standard since 1973, the question stands: why do we still store gold there?
Part of the reason we store gold is symbolic, to prop up investor confidence in the market. However, the other part is strategic, as the sale of the whole of the world’s largest bullion holdings would immediately crash the market and cause chaos.
In that sense, these gold reserves are important because they help keep currency rates and the economy stable and protect against inflation. Gold is a physical asset, worth investing in because its value tends to remain stable even when the value of fiat currency falls. This is why even individual, personal investors prefer to diversify their portfolios with purchases of gold coins and bars as well as investments in Gold IRA accounts in the same way governments do.
Does It Store Any Other Items?
Though it is renowned for its gold bullion, gold is not the only asset that Fort Knox is famous for housing. Occasionally, other precious items are stored in the vault including:
- The Magna Carta: In 1939, one of the original copies of the original Magna Carta was put on exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, and stored in Fort Knox for safekeeping after World War II broke out. In 1947 it was transferred back to England
- The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution: During World War II, the Magna Carta was not the only significant historical document moved to Fort Knox for safekeeping. Out of fear that the American capital would be attacked, many of the U.S.’s founding political documents were moved to and stored in Fort Knox until the war was over.
- The Holy Crown of Hungary: King Coloman of Hungary reigned from 1095 to 1116, and was famous for stating that the true ruler of the realm is, was, and always would be the Holy Crown of Hungary — not simply the man who donned it. During WWII, this crown found its way to Fort Knox, where it was stored securely until 1978 when it was returned to Hungary.
- Morphine sulfate: While Fort Knox is more famous for housing political artifacts and gold bullion, it is also the site of a morphine sulfate stockpile. In the 1950s, during the Cold War, the U.S. was worried that they would be cut off from the world’s supply of opium and, in effect, the ability to make pain medication. The government began storing morphine sulfate in Fort Knox in vast quantities alongside its gold stores.
The Gutenberg Bible and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are also said to once have been stored in Fort Knox. It’s safe to say no one person knows all of the precious items that have been stored at Fort Knox.
Keeping Its Secrets
As mentioned above, Fort Knox is famously one of the most secure buildings in the U.S. and potentially the world. The vault has only ever been opened to visitors three times in its history — once in 1943 when FDR inspected the vault, once in 1974 when a group of reporters and a Congressional delegation were allowed in to quell rumors that the U.S. gold reserves had been stolen or moved, and again in 2017 for another group of government representatives.
No single person knows the entire entry combination needed to access the vault, as important information concerning Fort Knox’s operations and security is divided between the security personnel. We honestly don’t know the full extent of Fort Knox’s security, because even information concerning who knows the combinations is classified.
Where Else Is America’s Gold Stored?
While Fort Knox holds most of the U.S.’s gold reserves, there are 12 Federal Reserve banks across the country, located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco.
The largest gold stockpile in the U.S. is held at the Federal Reserve Bank Depository in Manhattan, which, as of 2019, held approximately 497,000 gold bars with a combined weight of about 6,190 tons, with an estimated worth of $250 billion. Located 80 feet beneath the streets of Manhattan, and protected by state-of-the-art security, armed guards, and a nine-foot-high, 90-ton door, the gold reserves here are about 50% larger than the reserves at Fort Knox.
Unlike Fort Knox, this vault is open to the public where they hold regular tours. Die Hard 3 even featured the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as the major central plot device. Nevertheless, these vaults have never been breached in real life, and are considered among the most secure locations to store gold in the world.