Tracing back to 4000 B.C. when it was used to make jewelry, humans have been using gold to decorate themselves and collect as a symbol of power and wealth. The tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs were packed with gold. Chinese kings were buried with gold-gilded chariots. Of all the 118 elements from the periodic table, we’ve chosen gold to use as currency throughout history. As a handful of fortunate nations have evolved and grown into superpowers, along the way, they’ve accumulated an astounding amount of the precious metal. Enormous vaults have been built to protect hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gold. Here’s where the gold bars are.
The World Gold Council estimates the value for all gold ever mined would be over $7.5 trillion. Over most of history, a country’s gold reserves were considered a critical financial asset. It’s been vital for governments to keep their gold stash safe through changes in power, world wars, and the always present risk from professional theft. Let’s take a look at three of the legendary vaults where a tremendous amount of gold is secured.
The Bank of England Gold Vault
Over 4,600 tons of gold are protected in the largest gold vault in the United Kingdom. Many of the security measures put in place at gold vaults are unpublished and unknown except for a few principal operators. The vault contends there have been no heists since the bank’s establishment in 1694. With over 400,000 gold bars in the vault, just a small portion of those bars belong to the bank itself. The bank also stores gold for the London Bullion Market Association, the UK government, and other central banks around the world. A fantastic feat was pulled off when the entire vault was emptied during World War II. The gold bars were shipped to Canada to protect them from Germany. The vault was used as a staff canteen and later a bomb shelter. Posters sill line the walls from when the vault was used emptied during the war effort.
Fort Knox is a United States Army base in Kentucky, but “Fort Knox” is also a descriptive phrase for something being impenetrable. It has had the reputation of being the most secure and secret places in the world. The fortified vault at Fort Knox is actually called The United States Bullion Depository witch is a separate building located adjacent to the Army Post. Constructed in 1936, the Department of the Treasury operates it. The United States Mint Police protect the building. Rumors surround the fort because of its secrecy and lack of transparency regarding the contents in the vault.
The government says there are 147 million ounces of gold worth roughly $200 billion in today’s prices. Initially, the thought was that Fort Knox would house the gold that was backing the U.S. dollar currency, this all changed when the dollar was taken off the gold standard in 1971. Some conspiracy theories exist as to whether there’s actually gold in the vault since it’s not backing the dollar currency anymore why would we need to store it. Some people speculate that the gold was sold off long ago, and the vault now contains tungsten bricks painted to look like gold bars. Few audits to test the gold bars or inventories to count it exist.
New York Federal Gold Vault
The largest amount of gold in one vault is found below the New York Federal Reserve Bank building in Manhattan. At 33 Liberty St. in the Financial District in New York City, nearly 80 feet below street level, there’s a vault built in bedrock holding assets from central banks around the world. Over 7,000 tons of gold bars are stored inside the vault walls; central banks of foreign nations own nearly 98% of the gold. The Federal Reserve Bank serves as a guardian of the gold and stores it at no charge to the owners.
The only way into the vault is by a cylindrical entryway, which rotates by turning a giant wheel. Inside there are 122 separate smaller vaults, one for each country. Deposits are carefully tracked because gold bars can have significant variations in purity and weight. Once a deposit is made, you can later withdraw the same bar. One surprising fact about the most extensive collection of gold on the planet is that it offers public tours. This is one stop that I’ll be planning to make on my next trip to New York.
Here’s a great video by National Geographic on the U.S. Federal Reserve with footage on the transportation of gold inside and out of the New York gold vault.