Both Germany and Italy have an amazing stockpile of gold. Together, they own 6,446.3 tons of gold, amounting to $300.82 billion (3,743.7 tons to Germany valued at $174.7 billion, and 2702.6 tons to Italy valued at $126.12 billion). This precious metal accounts for almost 75 percent of the two European giants’ total foreign reserves.
Though Germany and Italy are the two countries with the second and third largest gold reserves, even their combined numbers pale in comparison to the country with the most gold in the world. That would be the United States of America, which has a stockpile of 8,965.6 tons that is valued at $418.39 billion. In terms of production, the United States stands fourth, after Australia, South Africa and China.
Gold Mining and Production in the United States
Gold was first documented to have occurred in Virginia in 1782. In 1793, gold was discovered in North Carolina. Major production started only in 1799, however, after the precious metal was discovered in Reed Farm.
In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order that banned the private ownership of gold coins, gold bullion and gold certificates by American citizens. Owners of these were forced to sell to the Federal Reserve. At that time, currencies were pegged to the gold standard. The depression had brought about a hoarding of the metal, which made the economy stall.
The Federal Reserve thereafter faced the problem of having a large gold reserve but having no place to store the metal safely and securely. It decided to build a vault for the storage of gold in Kentucky, on a piece of land owned by the military. This was completed in 1936. Shipments began immediately the following month, with the gold coming in the form of old bullion or newly produced gold bars that were formed from melted coins. The United States Postal Inspection Service, using 500 rails cars coming from all over the country, supervised the transfer.
Production in the United States increased dramatically in the 1980s when gold prices hit new highs. Heap leaching was used to recover gold from low-grade deposits in various states. Currently, the country produces around 250 tons each year, mostly coming from Nevada.
The United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox
The United States Bullion Depository, more popularly known as Fort Knox, is located in Kentucky and is the most famous gold stockpile in the world. While gold is also deposited in other areas, like at the Denver Mint, Philadelphia Mint, San Francisco Assay Office, and the West Point Bullion Depository, a huge portion of the gold reserves of the United States are stockpiled at Fort Knox.
Fort Knox has also been used to store other valuable assets and documents. During World War 2, as Nazi Germany was storming across Europe, the Magna Carta, or the Great Charter of the Liberties of England, was kept at the depository for safekeeping. A part of the Hungarian crown jewels, particularly the Crown of St. Stephen, was also deposited there lest they fall into the wrong hands. The U.S. government also deemed it prudent to transfer the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution to Fort Knox until the war was over.
Before the advent of synthetic painkillers, the military also made sure that there was an abundant supply of opium and morphine in Fort Knox, just in case the country gets cut off from the suppliers of raw opium used to alleviate the pain of wounded soldiers. The practice continued up to the height of the Cold War, when synthetic painkillers were finally invented.
But the most valuable deposit stockpiled in Fort Knox is, of course, the gold reserves. It has, in its possession, 4,578 metric tons of gold bullion, which is equivalent to around 3 percent of all the gold ever refined in the history of mankind.
However, there is a place that has even more gold deposited in its vault than Fort Knox’s. Remember Die Hard 3, when the character of Jeremy Irons said that he was robbing from the underground vault of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York because it held more gold than Fort Knox? There is truth to that, as the Federal Reserve Bank has 7,000 metric tons of gold, that are mostly held in trust for several international organizations and central banks of other countries.
Securing the Gold in Fort Knox
As the country with the most gold in the world, the United States did not scrimp in providing safety and security for its valuable reserve. Fort Knox itself is already a fortress, so accessing the gold vault inside the military camp is a highly improbable task.
Fort Knox is a U.S. Army post, meaning Army units are in the area to provide additional security. These include an aviation unit equipped with Apache helicopter gunships, the 16th Cavalry Regiment, the 19th Engineer Battalion, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division. Tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery complement the 30,000 soldiers stationed in the area.
Layers of security manned by the U.S. Mint Police ring the facility. There are also alarms, barbed wires, electric fences, video cameras and mine fields.
Granite walls line the gold vault. The main door’s thickness is 25 inches and weighs 22 tons. The emergency door, meanwhile, is 21 inches thick. Both are blast-proof and resistant to torches and drills. After one has entered the main door, there are still smaller compartments that need to be opened further. Staff members of the depository then dial different combinations separately. Staff members who get locked inside accidentally may use an escape tunnel from the vault’s lower level.
Visitors are not allowed inside the grounds of the depository. Since the depository opened in 1937, the no-visitor policy has been broken only once, when the vault was opened for inspection in September of 1974 to members of the U.S. Congress and select media personnel.
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