America's golden parachute: Fort Knox is home to billions of dollars of gold 'just in case we need it.' But the vault holds other treasures — and secrets
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America's golden parachute: Fort Knox hosts billions of dollars in gold 'just in case we need it' But the vault holds other treasures - and secrets
You may know Fort Knox from the James Bond film Goldfinger or from the old cartoon where Bugs Bunny tricks Yosemite Sam into digging up some of the gold bars and getting arrested.
But what do you really know about the US gold bunker in Kentucky?
The Fort Knox Gold Vault is one of the most secure and secret places in America. With few people ever getting inside, the gold storage is a subject of fascination and speculation.
Here are 10 things we know — and might not know.
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1. It contains tons of gold - literally
Fort Knox currently hosts 147.3 million ounces of gold. The government says the precious metal has a "book value" of $6.22 billion.
However, this is based on a fixed price set by officials in 1973. Roughly speaking, based on the current market value of gold, the reserves at Fort Knox are worth a far more impressive $273.7 billion.
A majority of the gold in the vault is in the form of 27 pound bars, while a percentage is in gold coins.
The purpose of all gold used to be to support US currency - but the dollar was taken off the gold standard in 1971.
2. Is the gold really in it?
So why is the US holding on to its gold stash?
"Just in case we need it," is the explanation reportedly given by a former Federal Reserve Board chairman.
Conspiracy theorists have insisted that the government secretly sold the gold and that the gold bars are actually tungsten bricks painted to look like the precious metal.
There is no way for an outsider to say with absolute certainty whether it really is precious metal - or if it is precious metal only. Over the years there have been few audits to test the gold or inventories to count it.
3. Outsiders rarely come in
In 2017, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin conducted a rare visit from outsiders to take a look at the gold reserves in Fort Knox's vault.
He was accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the two were photographed with bullion.
After that, Mnuchin had an answer for the conspiracy mongers. "I'm glad gold is safe!" he tweeted.
The last time Fort Knox opened its vault to civilians was more than 40 years earlier. A congressional delegation and some journalists looked at the gold in 1974.
4. Only one US President ever got in
President Franklin Roosevelt commissioned the construction of Fort Knox in the mid-1930s, ostensibly because the Treasury Department feared that US gold reserves were not safe from enemy invasion.
Roosevelt later became the only US President to ever set foot inside the titanic walls of the Gold Vault.
He traveled to Fort Knox to conduct an inspection in 1943, some seven years after construction of the vault was completed.
5. It's a beefy building
Fort Knox contains 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 16,000 cubic feet of granite, 750 tons of rebar, and 670 tons of structural steel. The cost of construction in the 1930s was only $560,000.
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The roof is said to be bombproof, and the main vault door weighs 20 tons and is 21 inches thick. The Treasury Department says no one knows the entire combination.
The door is resistant to flares, drills and explosives - it doesn't matter. The real challenge for any potential intruder is to even reach the building.
6. Guardians and more Guardians
Fort Knox is owned by members of the U.S. Mint Police, one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies, guards. It was founded in 1792.
Officers go through 12 weeks of basic training, followed by five weeks of field training. You'll learn a long list of heavy lifting skills, including weapon handling, cornering, door entry, and room clearance.
If that doesn't seem intimidating enough, Fort Knox sits at the center of a 109,000-acre US Army post and is a training ground for military troops from across the country.
7. A frail foreign visitor
On occasion, the vault at Fort Knox has held other valuable items in addition to gold.
In 1939, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta - the medieval English charter that established basic human rights - was brought to the United States to be displayed at the New York World's Fair.
When World War II broke out, the delicate document was shipped to Fort Knox for safekeeping. The Magna Carta stayed there until 1947 when it returned to England.
But for a time it had some cherished American roommates.
8. Very special guests from US history
World War II turned Fort Knox into a sort of hotel for valuable newspapers from both sides of the pond.
Originals of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution were placed in the gold vault amid fears of an attack on the country's capital.
As the war drew to a close, the parchment was moved to its rightful place in Washington, D.C. in 1944. brought back. That left some room in Fort Knox for the next priceless guest.
9. Protection for a sacred headgear
According to legend, Hungary's King Coloman, who reigned from 1095 to 1116, declared that the Holy Crown of Hungary, and not the king, was the true ruler of the empire.
During World War II, the crown was hijacked from Hungary to protect it from being captured by the Nazis or the Soviets. It reappeared in Austria in 1945 and was turned over to American forces.
The U.S. government took the crown to Fort Knox for safekeeping. It remained there until 1978, when it was returned to Hungary by a delegation led by US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.
10. America's medicine cabinet
Besides gold and historical artifacts, what else did Fort Knox own? How about a bunch of drugs? Morphine sulfate to be exact.
During the Cold War, the US military wanted to be sure they had a healthy supply of painkillers should foreign sources of opium ever be cut off. So in 1955, Fort Knox opened its doors to tons of opium.
The government spent millions in 1993 refining the stuff into morphine. It is still stored in Fort Knox next to the gold.
That is, if the gold is really there.
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This article is informational only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without any guarantee.
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