United States Bullion Depository Information
US Bullion Depository, Fort Knox, Kentucky
The United States Bullion Depository
|Location||Gold Vault Rd. and Bullion Blvd., Fort Knox, Kentucky|
|Area||42 acres (17 ha)|
|Built by||Great Lakes Construction|
|Architect||Louis A. Simon|
|Engineer||Neal A. Melick|
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|NRHP reference #||88000056 |
|Added to NRHP||February 18, 1988|
The United States Bullion Depository, often known as Fort Knox, is a fortified vault building located adjacent to the United States Army post of Fort Knox, Kentucky. It is operated by the the United States Department of the Treasury. The vault is used to store a large portion of the United States' gold reserves as well as other precious items belonging to or in custody of the federal government. The vault holds roughly 147 million troy ounces (4,580 metric tons) of gold bullion, over half of the Treasury’s stored gold. The depository is protected by the United States Mint Police.
The depository was built by the Treasury in 1936 on land transferred to it from the military. The depository was initially built to house gold then being kept in New York City and Philadelphia. This was part of a strategy to move gold reserves away from coastal cities to areas less vulnerable to foreign military invasion. The first shipments of gold occurred during the first half of 1937, and was overseen by the US Post Office.
During World War II the signed original Constitution of the United States, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and drafts of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address were stored in its vault for safekeeping, as was a Gutenberg Bible and an exemplified copy of the Magna Carta. After the war the depository held for a period of time the Crown of St. Stephen as well as enough opium and morphine to meet the needs of the entire United States for one year. Today, in addition to gold reserves, it is known to hold ten 1933 Double Eagle Gold Coins, a 1974-D aluminum penny, and twenty gold (22-karat) Sacagawea dollar coins that were flown on the Space Shuttle.
The depository is a secure facility. Between its fenced perimeter and granite lined concrete structure lie rings of razor wire and mine fields. The grounds are monitored by high-resolution, night vision video cameras and microphones. The subterranean vault is made of steel plates, i-beams and cylinders encased in concrete. Its torch- and drill-resistant door is 21 inches (53 cm) thick and weighs 20 short tons (18 metric tons). The vault door is set on a 100-hour time clock, and can only be opened by members of the depository staff who must dial separate combinations. For security reasons, visitors are not allowed inside. It is so secure, the term "safe as Fort Knox" has become a metaphor for safety and security.
The site is located on what is now Bullion Boulevard at the intersection of Gold Vault Road. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, in recognition of its significance in the economic history of the United States and its status as a well-known landmark. 
In June 1935, the U.S. Treasury announced its intention to quickly build a gold depository on the grounds of Fort Knox, Kentucky, to house its gold then kept in the New York City Assay office and the Philadelphia Mint. This was in keeping with a policy previously announced to move gold reserves away from coastal cities to areas less vulnerable to foreign military invasion. This policy had already led to the shipment of nearly of 85.7 million troy ounces (2,666 metric tons) of gold from San Francisco to Denver. 
Several military advantages of the location were cited by officials. An army invading from the Eastern Seaboard would have to fight through the Appalachian Mountains, which was considered a reasonable impediment to military forces at that time. In addition, it was isolated from railways and highways which would further hinder an invading force. Even air travel to the location across the mountains was considered treacherous for a pilot unfamiliar with the territory. Finally, the Army's only completely mechanized cavalry unit was stationed at the Fort and could readily be deployed to defend the depository. 
The first wave of gold shipments were made semi-weekly between January 11 and June 17, 1937, and overseen by the US Post Office.   The gold was transported from the New York Assay office and the Phildephia Mint onto trains using postal trucks and municipal police escorts.  In the armored train cars, postal workers were accompanied by soldiers, secret service agents, and mint guards.   Decoy trains were employed.  The gold was transferred from the train onto Army trucks under the protection of soldiers armed with armor piercing bullets and machine guns. The trucks were escorted by combat cars of the 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment to the depository.  The Post Office Department billed the Treasury Department for transporting the weight of the crates and gold using the fourth class postage rate with added insurance fees.  A total of 157.82 million troy ounces (4,909 metric tons) were moved to Fort Knox in this wave.  This represented 44.84% of total US gold reserves, which were 351.9 million troy ounces (10,947 metric tons) at that time.  It took over 5 months and required 39 trains consisting of 215 cars. 
On March 5, 1941, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. announced the completion of another shipment totaling 258.74 million troy ounces (8,048 metric tons) of gold from the New York Assay office to the depository. The total amount at the depository after completion of the shipment was 416.6 million troy ounces (12,956 metric tons).  This represented 65.58% of total US gold reserves, which were 635.2 million troy ounces (19,757 metric tons) at that time.  This shipment began in July of the previous year. It took seven months and required 45 trains consisting of 337 cars. 
Contemporaneous with the building and early operation of the depository was an unprecedented growth of total gold reserves in the United States. Factors driving this increase were business developments in the United States and abroad, political uncertainties in Europe, rearmament programs, and the general rise in the currency prices of gold resulting in increased production. These reserves, which were 194 million troy ounces (6,019 metric tons) in the beginning of 1934, increased to 503 million troy ounces (15,641 metric tons) by the end of 1939. Of this 309 million troy ounces (9,598 metric tons) increase, only 6 million troy ounces (178 metric tons) was gold acquired in January 1934 under the gold buying program of Executive Order 6102, which required individuals and institutions deliver to the government all but a small amount of their gold coin and bullion. A little less than 26 million troy ounces (800 metric tons) of this increase represented domestic production and return of coin and scrap gold. The vast majority, 277 million troy ounces (8,620 metric tons), were the result of imports from abroad. It is estimated that 89 million troy ounces (2,755 metric tons) came out of central bank reserves of other countries, mostly France and the United Kingdom, and 174 million troy ounces (5,421 metric tons) out of foreign mines, largely from South Africa. The balance came from other sources, principally private holdings in India.  By the end of 1940, reserves were 628.4 million troy ounces (19,546 metric tons).  Total U.S. gold reserves stored at all locations peaked in December 1941 at 649.6 million troy ounces (20,206 metric tons). 
Similar to Treasury officials concerns about foreign attack of its precious gold in the mid 1930's, Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish expressed concern with the safety of the Library's precious artifacts when he took office in 1939.  As the Battle of Britain was fought during the summer and fall of 1940, MacLeish asked the U.S. Geological Survey about locating underground storage for “valuable paintings and books” and “within reasonable distance of Washington.”  In December 1940, he directed his staff to create a detailed catalog of the Library of Congress's most "irreplaceable" assets, and the space required to store them. Primary attention was given to those items "considered most important for the history of democracy.”  When it became clear that Congress would not fund the building of a separate facility Macleish sought other options.  On April 30, 1941 he requested of the Treasury Secretary some thousands of cubic feet at Fort Knox for the most important items in the Library. The Secretary replied offering the Librarian ten cubic feet.  In July, when the inventory was complete and it had been determined that some 40,000 cubic feet would be required for the storage of all unique and irreplaceable materials of the Library, the original ten cubic feet offer was raised to 60.3 cubic feet. 
MacLeish prioritized items to be sent to Fort Knox.  These items were: the Constitution of the United States (original); the Declaration of Independence (original); Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (original, autographed copy); Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (first and second autographed drafts); a Gutenberg Bible ( St. Blasius– St. Paul copy); the Articles of Confederation (original); and the Magna Carta ( Lincoln Cathedral exemplified copy),  which had been on loan to the United States for the 1939 New York World's Fair.  The items were shipped by train to the depository on December 26th, 1941. 
While the depository was invulnerable to bombing attack, it was not climate controlled and so the documents were vulnerable to changes in humidity, temperature, and tiny insects.  So special precautions were taken. The items were locked in bronze containers that had been heated for six hours to drive off any moisture then embedded in mineral wool and placed in a large wooden cases sealed with lead.  An air conditioning unit, and calcium chloride dryers were installed in the vault. Frequent inspections were made.  On May 1942 repairs were made to the Declaration.  In April 1943, the Declaration and the Constitution were removed from and then taken back to the depository so they could be displayed at the opening of the Jefferson Memorial.  On October 1, 1944, all items were returned to the Library of Congress.  The Magna Carta was returned to England after the war in January 1946. 
After World War II the depository held the Crown of St. Stephen, as well other Hungarian crown jewels including a gold scepter and orb and a gold‐encrusted mantle. They were given to U.S. military authorities by members of a Hungarian military guard who feared that they would otherwise fall into Soviet hands. It was kept in Germany under US custody for several years before being transferred to Fort Knox. The Crown and other jewels were returned to Hungary in 1978. 
In 1955 the Defense Logistics Agency began storing opium and morphine in the depository. This was done to insure the nation had adequate supplies in case of war or supply disruptions from the limited number of poppy exporters. The stockpile grew to 68,269 pounds (30,966 kg), enough to meet the legal painkiller needs of the entire United States for one year if supplies were cut off. As the cold war ended, and more nations began exporting concentrated poppy straw, concerns about supply disruptions abated. But the agency could not legally sell it's opium or morphine stock without congressional approval. So, in 1993, it converted it's remaining opium reserves into morphine sulphate. This was done to extend the life of the stock, since morphine has a longer self life then opium.   According to a Public Affairs Questions/Answers and Fact Sheet from the US Mint, obtained through FOIA Request #2017-09-205 , the morphine is no longer stored at the depository.  
The building measures 105 feet (32 m) by 121 feet (37 m) and is 42 feet (13 m) above ground level. Materials used to construct the building include 16,500 cubic feet (470 m3) of granite  (quarried at the North Carolina Granite Corporation Quarry Complex ), 4,200 cubic yards (3,200 m3) of concrete, 750 short tons (680 metric tons) of reinforced steel and 670 short tons (610 metric tons) of structural steel. The outer wall is made of granite lined concrete. At each corner of the structure are four guard boxes. Sentry boxes are located at the entrance gate. Over the marble entrance at the front of the building is the inscription "United States Depository" with the seal of the Department of the Treasury in gold. Offices of the Officer in Charge and the Captain of the Guard open upon the entrance lobby. At the rear of the building is another entrance used for receiving bullion and supplies. 
Below the fortress-like structure lies the gold vault. The vault is made of steel plates, steel I-beams and steel cylinders laced with hoop bands and encased in concrete.  It is less than 4,000 square feet (370 m2) in area, and two stories high.  The vault was made by the Mosler Safe Company. According to a Mosler brochure, both the vault door and emergency door are 21 inches (53 cm) thick and made of the latest torch- and drill-resistant material of the time. The main vault door weighs 20 short tons (18 metric tons) and the vault casing is 25 inches (64 cm).  The vault door is set on a 100-hour time lock and is rarely opened.  To open the vault, members of the depository staff must dial separate combinations known only to them. 
There is an escape tunnel from the lower level of the vault to be used by someone who has been accidentally locked in. It can only be opened from inside the vault, and when the vault doors are closed and locked. The tunnel leads outside the vault into the main building. 
The facility is surrounded with fences and is guarded by the United States Mint Police. Between the outer perimeter and the depository walls lie rings of razor wire and mine fields. These grounds are monitored by high-resolution, night vision video cameras and microphones.  The depository is equipped with its own emergency power and water systems. 
For security reasons, visitors are not allowed inside the depository grounds. There have been only three occasions when guests outside the treasury department have made inspection tours of the vault. The first was by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943. A second inspection was made by members of the United States Congress and the news media on September 23, 1974 led by then Director of the United States Mint, Mary Brooks. This was in response to a conspiracy theory, circulated by Peter David Beter, that the gold in the depository had been secretly removed by elites and that the vaults were empty.  The third inspection tour was on August 21, 2017. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Treasurer of the United States Jovita Carranza and other staff accompanied Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie and Kentucky governor Matt Bevin.   According to a tweet by Mnuchin, and an internal email by Chief of the U.S. Mint Police Dennis O'Connor, he was the first Treasury Secretary to visit the depository since John Wesley Snyder in 1948.  
As of 28 June 2019 [update], Fort Knox holds 147.34 million troy ounces (4,583 metric tons) of gold reserves with a market value of US $208.2 billion. This represents 56.35% of the gold reserves of the United States.   As of 2017, the U.S. gold reserves of 8,133.5 metric tons was nearly as much as the next three countries combined. The next highest holdings were Germany's, whose gold reserves were 3,371.0 metric tons. 
The gold bars held in the depository are approximately seven inches long, three and a half inches wide, and one and three quarters inches thick. While each of these gold bars contain the equivalent of approximately 400 troy ounces (12.4 kilograms) of pure gold, they differ in their composition. Mint gold bars are a minimum of 99.5% fine gold, while coin bars, which were made from melted gold coins, are the same composition as the coins they were made from.  The 1934 London Good Delivery List, published by the London Gold Market (a precursor of the London Bullion Market Association), defined coin bars as "bars assaying 899 to 901 per mille or 915 1/2 to 917 per mille and containing between 350 and 420 ounces of fine gold".  US coins produced from 1838 through 1933 were made of a tough, wear-resistant alloy of 90% gold and 10% copper,  while UK gold coins were minted with a gold proportion of 22 parts to 24 - or 91.667%. This is in contrast to many 99.9% fine gold bullion coins minted in modern times, since older coins were intended for circulation while newer coins are not.
In 2011, the US Treasury’s full detailed schedules of gold bars was published by the US House Committee on Financial Services as part of submissions for its hearing titled “Investigating the Gold: H.R. 1495, the Gold Reserve Transparency Act of 2011 and the Oversight of United States Gold Holdings”.  From the schedule, it can be seen that roughly 64% of the gold bars at Fort Knox have a fineness between 0.8990 and 0.9010, 2% have a fineness between 0.9011 and 0.9154, 17% have a fineness between .9155 and .9170, and 17% have a fineness greater than or equal to 0.9950. The average fineness is 0.9167.  
In addition to the gold, the depository currently holds ten 1933 Double Eagle Gold Coins, a 1974-D aluminum penny, and twenty gold (22-karat) Sacagawea dollar coins that were flown on the Space Shuttle.  
The term "safe as Fort Knox" has become a metaphor for safety and security in popular vernacular.    As an example, 2020 Democratic Party presidential party candidate Elizabeth Warren, when outlining in a Medium post a plan to make voting machines secure, stated “Our elections should be as secure as Fort Knox. But instead, they’re less secure than your Amazon account.”  Samsung Knox, part of Samsung's SAFE (SAmsung For Enterprise) initiative, was named after Fort Knox, connoting a sense of security. 
Because of the gold stored at Fort Knox, the depository has been featured in many popular books, movies, and television shows.  A well known example is the movie Goldfinger,  in which the protagonist executes a labyrinthine scheme to irradiate the vault in order to corner the gold market.  The movie Behind the Headlines, released the same year as the first wave of gold shipments to Fort Knox, was about gangsters stealing gold from an armored car on route to the depository.  In the 1951 comedy " Comin' Round the Mountain," Abbott and Costello follow a treasure map and unwittingly dig into the vault at Fort Knox, where they are immediately arrested.  In the 1952 animated cartoon 14 Carrot Rabbit, Bugs Bunny tricks Yosemite Sam into digging into the vault where he too is immediately arrested. 
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