The law that created the United States Mint in 1792 specified that America's coins were to be made of gold, silver, and copper, so gold coins have been part of our currency since the earliest days of the United States Mint. Before then, gold was stored where it was needed: at Philadelphia and, later, the other United States Mint facilities where coins were made.
In 1933, gold was taken out of circulation. President Roosevelt decreed that no one was allowed to own gold. Exceptions were made for jewelry, dentistry, tools and coin collecting. This national wealth needed a storehouse where it could be kept safely, and the idea of a national bullion depository was born. In 1936, a special depository was built in Fort Knox to safeguard large quantities of gold for the United States for commerce and strategic reasons.
Fort Knox, a military base in Kentucky, provided a secure and central location. The Department of the Army deeded the land to the Treasury Department on which to build the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox. In fact, "Fort Knox" is known all over the world as a symbol of the security of America's wealth.
The first gold arrived at the United States Bullion Depository in early 1937. How did it get there? By mail! The gold was too heavy to fly in, so it was mailed there by train through the Post Office Department, today's United States Postal Service. Transported as mail, the gold was guarded by federal agents all the way to its new home. Fort Knox is protected by the United States Mint Police.
About half of the Treasury's stored gold (as well as valuables of other federal agencies) is kept at Fort Knox. No visitors are allowed in or near the Depository, which is outside Louisville, Kentucky.
Various branches of the United States Mint store bullion, but there's only one United States Bullion Depository and that's the fortress near Fort Knox, Kentucky.
What is it really like in there?
Because of the high level of security at the United States Bullion Depository, no visitors are allowed in. The inside of Fort Knox is one place most people will never see...for everyone's safety.
The United States Bullion Depository has held many interesting items over the years. Records show that the Declaration of Independence, the jewels of St. Stephen the King of Hungary, the Gutenberg Bible, the Gettysburg Address, and other priceless artifacts have been stored there at various times. The building's security has made it respected around the world.
The gold stored in the Depository is in the form of bars. Each bar is almost the size of a common brick—7 inches long, 3-1/2 inches wide, and 1-3/4 inches thick—but it weighs a lot more than a brick: about 27 pounds!
Each standard bar contains about 400 troy ounces of gold. (A troy ounce is just a tiny bit heavier than a regular ounce.) How much is one bar worth? At $1,330.00 (2016) per ounce, each bar would be worth more than $532,000!
There are two types of bars. A "standard" United States Mint bar is made from almost pure gold. A "coin bar" is made from melted gold coins, which are usually mixed with other metals for strength. Gold is actually rather soft, for a metal.
So life with gold means having to "handle with care." When gold bars are moved, the handlers must be very gentle with them. Dropping a bar could dent it. (And dropping one on your foot really, really hurts!)