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The U.S. government has kept its gold at Fort Knox since 1937. The first military base in the area was Ford Duffield built in 1861 during the American Civil War. In July 1918 construction began on an artillery training centre nearby, named after Henry Knox, the chief of artillery for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The end of World War One saw a change of plans, and the area was used for training reserves and armored troops and an airfield was opened.
The United States Bullion Depository dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt who in 1933 banned private ownership of gold coins and bullion. The Federal Reserve bought this gold, and somewhere was needed to put it. Construction of a repository at Fort Knox began in 1936 with the first gold shipments arriving in 1937. It has also been used to hold other valuable artefacts and gold belonging to other countries, particularly during World War Two, though there is a lot of German gold still there. A second storage facility was built at the same time: West Point Mint in New York State initially held silver but is now used by the United States Mint to produce coinage as well as storing both gold and silver. A third major store of gold is at the Denver Mint in Colorado.
The building has massive blast-proof doors weighing over 20 tons, granite walls, sophisticated security systems, the United States Mint Police (very suckable), U.S. Army units nearby, and helicopter gunships at Godman Army Airfield. On October 14, the vaults reportedly contained 147,341,858.382 troy ounces (4,176 metric tons) of gold, valued at US$337 billion, assuming $1,188.50/oz.
In the eponymous book, Auric Goldfinger plotted to steal the gold, while in the film he schemed to turn the gold radioactive, thus ruining the US economy and making his own gold more valuable. Whether this would actually work is uncertain, but it's no less plausible than most James Bond movies.
Several news sources and some politicians have questioned how much gold is really in there, and whether it was secretly sold off. The US government has sold a lot of gold in the past, with national reserves falling from 20,000 metric tons in the early 1950s to 8,133 metric tons in 2013. But rumors surfaced in the early 1970s that Richard Nixon had sold most or all of the U.S.'s gold to the British; Nixon had taken the U.S. off the gold standard as a result of the economic crunch in the early 1970s. As a result media were allowed into Fort Knox in 1974 and shown some gold bars; this is the last time the media have been allowed inside.
Sources differ on when exactly America's gold was last counted (possibly due to confusion between Fort Knox's holdings and the nation's total gold reserves), but American gold holdings were reportedly last audited in 1953 (which includes testing for purity); Fort Knox's gold was reportedly counted in 1986 and the vault was then sealed. Everyone seems to agree that it hasn't been properly checked for a long time, even if Treasury representatives insist they know what's inside. There were reports that a 2009 shipment of U.S. gold to China turned out to be tungsten but there's no evidence that this is true.
Conspiracy theories hold that the U.S. government used the gold initially as collateral for borrowing, later skimmed off bits from gold bars to sell off for money, and ended up selling off bullion wholesale. Theories probably received a boost from Britain's controversial but non-secret sale of most of its gold from 1999-2002 when Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer; with hindsight right-wingers have condemned Brown for getting a bad deal, as the gold price rocketed after 9/11 (see Sale of UK gold reserves, 1999–2002).
Ron Paul, a past supporter of a return to the gold standard, in 2011 called for a new audit to make sure that all of America's gold is still there. Paul's concern seems to have been particularly with the Federal Reserve of New York, which has the power to sell or trade gold secretly (as well as being based in the notoriously godless and liberal New York state). To perform a full test of all the gold held by the US government (including weighing gold bars and checking their composition) would cost anything from $15m to $60m.
It may seem implausible for the U.S. to get rid of all their gold without anyone noticing, in view of its enormous weight. They filled the vaults in a few months in 1937 (albeit far from secretly) and have sold more than half their total reserves from peak levels (while the precise movements of gold will be kept quiet, it's hard to hide entirely). Clipping gold coins and skimming gold bars is a time-honored trick, but it's quite a step from there to say that the US has no gold left. And it's no coincidence that those most obsessed with "missing" gold are also obsessed with the fringe economic idea of a return to the gold standard.
The film Die Hard with a Vengeance claimed Fort Knox is "for tourists" and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York holds ten times as much shiny metal. This is about as plausible as the rest of the film, which involves lots of jokes about racism and Oedipal stuff with sewers. But who would win in a fight between James Bond and John McClane?
- See the Wikipedia article on United States Bullion Depository.
- See the Wikipedia article on Goldfinger (film).
- Has the Federal Reserve Sold the Gold at Fort Knox?, Joe Wolverton, II, The New American, 08 July 2015
- Goldbug Variations, Mother Jones, July/Aug 2010
- Is There Gold at Fort Knox?, Money Morning, May 12, 2015
- , Louis Basenese, Wall Street Daily, Jul 16, 2013
- The Drilled Gold Bars Filled With Tungsten, Tim Worstall, Forbes, 26 March 2012.
- Gold Bar (1 Kilo) Filled With Tungsten Found in UK, Business Insider, 26 March 2012.
- Ron Paul worries Fort Knox gold is gone, CNN.com, June 24, 2011