In the hills south of Louisville, Kentucky, there is a famous Army base called Fort Knox. There’s also a nearby government building called the United States Bullion Depository–not the same place. Public perception holds that all of the US’s gold–the same gold that serves as the “gold standard” for US cash–is stored at Fort Knox.
That’s not exactly true.
Fort Knox and the Bullion Depository are close enough to one another that the two are referred to as “Fort Knox” by the public. The Depository houses a significant share of the federal government’s physical wealth. How much does it store? Around 4,500 metric tons of gold!
The Bullion Depository was created in 1936 as a vault to store much of the government’s material wealth. Before its construction, all of the country’s bullion was stored in vaults in New York and Philadelphia. This led to concerns that foreign attacks could access the government’s wealth too easily, driving politicians to move the country’s gold investments and other precious materials further inland.
Throughout the late 1930s and into the Second World War, a huge transfer of wealth took place. Gold, silver, and platinum were the main materials shifted to the Depository. However, stockpiles of other materials, like morphine and opium, were also stored in the vault starting in the 1940s.
The vault is full of more than just physical wealth. It also houses priceless historical artifacts of immense cultural significance, like the signed, original copy of the Constitution. Other artifacts stored in the vault include an exemplified copy of the Magna Carta, the original Declaration of Independence, and two autographed drafts of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. From the Second World War until 1978, the Holy Crown of Hungary, a priceless Hungarian artifact, was held for safekeeping in the Depository as well.
The vault plays a prominent role in US pop culture, such as the Nicolas Cage film National Treasure. Extreme security measures are in place to defend the vault from would-be thieves–yes, even Benjamin Franklin Gates–including barbed wire, a minefield, night-vision cameras, extremely sophisticated locks, and a steel-and-concrete vault.
The Depository is said to be so difficult to crack that “as safe as Fort Knox” has become a common saying. I guess “as safe as the United States Bullion Depository” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. In any case, the bulk of the nation’s material wealth is indeed safely stored in Kentucky.