Fort Knox, an Impregnable Monument to Security Theater [Bloomberg]


During the panic of 1792, the Bank of North America tried to stave off a run by having employees “carry its specie busily to and from the cellar in order to give a magnified notion of what it had,” historian Bray Hammond wrote. Bank managers “ostentatiously brought in deposits of gold and silver that had unostentatiously been carried out a little while before.”

The show of specie reassured jittery customers, saving the bank from failure. As a young clerk in Iowa during the panic of 1907, Hammond recalled employing exactly the same dodge: heaping impressively large sacks of low-value coin in plain view and ostentatiously counting it to give the impression of overflowing vaults.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt used a similar trick when he authorized the construction of the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Roosevelt took the U.S. off the domestic gold standard in 1934. Although the nation remained on the standard in international exchange, the Gold Reserve Act made it illegal for private citizens to hold “monetary gold” — that is, coins or bullion. Banks had to transfer to the U.S. government any title to gold reserves they held, in return for dollars. Individuals could still own gold jewelry and keep their gold dental fillings, but anyone owning monetary gold had to sell it to the government.

United States Gold Depository

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