Safer Than Fort Knox

The term ‘safer than Fort Knox’ is readily equated with security that cannot be breached – and for good reason. The United States Bullion Depository is more commonly referred to simply as ‘Fort Knox’, in reference to its location adjacent to the Fort Knox army post in Kentucky. It is used to house more than 4,603 tons of gold bullion, representing a significant portion of the official gold reserves of the United States. Fort Knox is also used to store other highly valued items, such as historical documents.

The need for a facility like Fort Knox came about after US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order in 1933 outlawing ownership of gold bullion, gold certificates and gold coins by private American citizens. This left gold owners with no choice but to sell these items to the US Federal Reserve. The reason put forward for this controversial move, was that the bank panics experience in February and March of that year, along with foreign exchange movements, threatened to deplete the US gold reserves. With some small concessions to those who made use of gold in their industry, profession or art and some other stipulated circumstances, Executive Order 6102 demanded that US citizens deliver the stated gold items to the Federal Reserve on or before 1 May 1933.

With the Fed’s gold reserves rapidly increasing from around US$4 billion at the time of Executive Order 6102, to US$12 billion by 1937, the problem of where to store this precious stash arose. So, the construction of Fort Knox was undertaken by the US Treasury Department and completed in December 1936. Living up to its name, the building looks like a fort – strong, secure and forbidding. The treasure it protects is kept in a vault below the building, lined with solid granite walls and containing smaller compartments. The 22 ton blast-proof door has a combination which no single person has access to. Instead, a number of depository staff are entrusted with part of the combination they must dial, requiring the presence and cooperation of several people each time the door is opened.

Further security measures include a network of perimeter fences, which are monitored constantly by the United States Mint Police – a federal law enforcement agency charged with protecting the US Mint and the US Treasury and their employees. Moreover, the location of Fort Knox affords additional security from the Fort Knox army post and its extensive security, protective and combative resources. Visitors are not permitted into the Depository grounds.

The first shipments to Fort Knox were carried out in 1937, requiring the services of 500 rail cars. Declared as registered mail, the deliveries were covered by the US Postal Inspection Service – the law enforcement division of the US Postal Service. Fort Knox has been immortalized in cinema, television and print – both serious and tongue-in-cheek – but whichever way you look at it, there’s no doubt that there is not much that is ‘safer than Fort Knox’.