The Bullion Depository At Fort Knox

“It’s like Fort Knox.” Do you recall ever hearing those words or words like them used to describe a place that is hard to get into? Most likely you have and it means just that. Precautions, safety, security, authorizations, access. All those things are also used to describe a place that not just anyone can walk into. That comparison and saying are used for a reason and it’s because Fort Knox set a precedent for secure facilities across the bar.

While some today may think that Fort Knox is just a military base (which it is), some may not realize that while the United States Army was stationed in the Kentucky location, a United States Bullion Depository was built in the early 1900s for which the Army would be deployed to defend if threats were present. With all the branches of the United States Mint including its headquarters in Washington, D.C., individuals often forget about the depository and its long history as an extension of the Mint.

Building Fort Knox

Producing gold is a risky business. Not only financially, but when it comes to security. This is precisely the reason the building at Fort Knox was commissioned as it was necessary to the United States Treasury Department to store gold away from coastal areas where the threat of foreign military forces was higher than those in areas inland. At the time, gold reserves were kept in the New York City Assay Office as well as the Mint at Philadelphia.

In mid-1935, the land was transferred from the military to the Treasury for the construction of a depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky, as authorized by Congress. Militarily speaking, the area would force enemies to trudge through mountains from the east. The area itself is also quite isolated from the rest of the world with railways and highways in the distance and further hindering those who wished to attack it.

The depository would be used to store all the country’s precious metal bullion reserves. By December of 1936, the bullion depository would be completed featuring 16,000 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel, and 670 tons of structural steel. The total construction cost would end up being over half a million dollars at the time and by today’s standards, would exceed eight million dollars. The Army was then stationed alongside the Fort depository and would be ready to defend it if necessary.

First Shipments of Gold

On January 13, 1937, the first shipment of gold from the New York Assay Office and the Philadelphia Mint would be made to the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox. Ships arrived semi-weekly between its first shipment in mid-January through June 17 of the same year. The United States Post Office oversaw the shipments as the gold would be transported from postal trucks onto trains accompanied by municipal police escorts. The train cars were armored and all postal workers were chaperoned by soldiers, mint guards, and secret service agents. A number of decoy train cars were employed as the gold was transferred from trains to Army trucks protected by another wave of soldiers and combat vehicles before making its way to the depository.

In this wave of gold transfers to the new building at Fort Knox, over 157 million troy ounces of gold was moved. After almost six months of movement, the entire shipment itself ended up representing nearly 45 percent of the total amount of United States gold reserves at the time. Four years later in early March of 1941, another shipment of over 258 million troy ounces was moved from the New York Assay Office to the bullion depository. This shipment to the vaults at Fort Knox, added to what was already being stored, increased the total amount of United States gold reserves represented to over 65 percent This new wave required seven months’ time and countless train cars, moving vehicles, workers, and security measures.

Storing More Than Gold

While the bullion depository stored just that, gold bullion reserves, it also became the stronghold for historic documents during times of war. More specifically, World War II. As the war raged on in Europe, threats of danger did not evade the homeland. The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights were all moved to the depository to protect them from potential danger. In 1944, those founding documents were returned to Washington, D.C.

Over the years, Fort Knox also found itself holding items for other government agencies. This included the Magna Carta as well as the crown, sword, scepter, orb, and cape of St. Stephen, the King of Hungary. All of those items were returned to Hungary in the late 1970s. It was also said that in the mid-1950s, opium and morphine were stored at the Fort Knox location by the Defense Logistics Agency in case of short supply during threats of war. This was done to make sure the nation had an adequate supply. It was stockpiled until the country had enough for one year bearing a supply cutoff. As of recent years and a Freedom of Information Act, the drugs are no longer stored there.

Visiting Fort Knox

The bullion depository is famous for its name because to get in is quite difficult, even with the proper clearances. It was not until September 23, 1974, that Fort Knox would finally lift its strict no-visitors policy for a group of journalists in addition to a Congressional delegation to view the vaults holding the gold reserves. This visit was sparked due to the consistent rumors that all the gold being held there was removed. The Treasury Secretary at the time then allowed for the viewing of the never-before-seen vault by the outside public as President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only person other than normal personnel authorized to access the vaults.

It was not until August 24, 2017, that the depository was opened again for the second time to outside visitors. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, and Congressional representatives visited the vaults holding gold reserves.

Fort Knox Bullion Depository - Today

Currently, the vaults at Fort Knox account for 147.3 million ounces of gold. This is, according to the United States Mint, about half of the Treasury’s stored gold. The Mint, in addition to numbers provided by the Bureau of Fiscal Services, Mint-held gold reserves in November of 2019 totaled 248,046,115.696 ounces between Denver, West Point, Fort Knox, and the Working Stock. This total values at over $10 billion.

The only gold removed from the reserve in some years has been to test the purity of the gold during mandatory and regular audits. Even these amounts remained very small. The gold is currently held as an asset of the United States with the size of a standard gold bar recording at 7 inches x 3 ⅝ inches by 1 and ¾ inches. The weight of a gold bar totals approximately 400 ounces or 27.5 pounds.

Source: US Mint;