Exploring the Federal Reserve’s Underground Gold Vault

Well, do ya?  Wanna see a billion dollars, that is? Believe it or not, you can! All you need to do is visit the Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan. You’ll have the opportunity to see stacks upon stacks of gold bars, currently valued at not just a billion dollars but approximately 250 billion dollars!

While it may seem like it should be impossible that tourists can just go and ogle at that amount of gold, getting a space on the tour is actually what’s nearly impossible! Tickets are free, but they only become available 30 days in advance, at 9:00 am ET. If you log into the system at 9:05, there is a pretty good chance that you’re not going to get a ticket! So, practice your clicking skills in advance if you want to have this rare opportunity to look at all the shiny stuff.

Fortunately, I was FINALLY able to score a ticket this fall and made my way there to see what all the fuss was about. Though the address for the Federal Reserve is listed as Liberty Street, you actually enter at 44 Maiden Lane, around the back side of the building. Unfortunately, there is no street number outside to help identify the building, but when you find one of the many armed security guards outside the “Employees Only” door, you’ll know you’ve come to the right place (they have their own police force!)

Personally, I’ve walked by that entrance so many times since moving to NYC and had no idea that this was where the Federal Reserve was located. I guess when you have something of so much value inside, you don’t exactly scream your location from the rooftops, right?

You’re asked to arrive shortly before your tour time to check in and go through security, which is basically just an ID check, a walk through a metal detector, and sending your bag through a scanner (I was surprised you could even bring a bag, but you can. There is nowhere to store coats or bags, though, so you’ll be carrying your belongings the entire time. Travel light!)

Also, keep in mind that you cannot take photos AT ANY POINT once you pass through security, nor can you even have your phone out, so take care of any important calls or texts before you go inside. (And hence why you won’t see any fun photos of gold in this post!)

Once you’re through security, you’ll head up to their museum where you can wander at your leisure until the tour begins. Personally, I spent most of my time admiring the gorgeous, vaulted Guastavino ceilings inside the nearly 100-year-old building. The tour started shortly after for our group of about 25 people, and we each got a headset so we could hear our tour guide perfectly the entire time.

We walked through some of the museum exhibits, and our guide tried to explain exactly what the Federal Reserve is and how it works. It was a lightning-fast pace, and unfortunately, I can’t really say that I have a much better understanding now than I did before. It seems rather complex and is definitely not something that can be fully explained in less than an hour, but bless her heart for trying! (They do have some cute comic books for kids, so if you REALLY want to understand what goes on there, grab a couple of these books on your way out. They certainly made all that info a lot easier to digest!)

Federal Reserve Comic Books
Free comic books from the Federal Reserve

We continued through the museum a bit further, and our guide talked to us about printing paper currency, and even more interestingly, shredding currency. They have a huge plastic case filled with shredded currency, and she explained how millions of bills are destroyed EACH DAY. (Interestingly, we learned that the $10 bill has the shortest lifespan, which was really surprising to me. How is it not the $1 bill???) There was also another plastic case filled with stacked bills and I had a momentary Ocean’s 11 daydream where I imagined myself running out of there with all of it, but sadly, all I got was a little bag of shredded bills to take home as a souvenir.

Federal Reserve Shredded Currency
You get a souvenir when you finish your tour! Your very own bag of shredded U.S. currency.

And finally, we got to the good stuff. Which let’s face it, most of us were there to see the gold! To get to it, you have to take an elevator 80 feet below ground, all the way down to the bedrock. (If you’re claustrophobic, probably not the tour for you…) Once you exit the elevator, you’ll pass through the cylindrical, air-tight and water-tight vault door and right into the main vault.

And oh…it is so cool! The room is split up into lockers, each one filled with stacks of gold. The bars vary in shapes and sizes, and each has an imprinted number in order to keep track of it all. When gold is brought to the Fed or moved around, at least three people are required to supervise all the comings and goings for security reasons (and we were told that there are NO blind spots in the vault as far as cameras are concerned).

The gold is typically weighed (each bar weighing around 27 pounds), and the handlers need to wear gloves and these special steel foot coverings in the event that they were to drop a bar on their toes! They showed us a pair of these shoe coverings, and one had a huge dent from where someone had dropped a bar on it. (Not to mention the several dents in the floor that appears to have met a similar fate in the past).

Most of the gold in the vault doesn’t actually belong to the Federal Reserve System or even to the United States. In fact, the majority of the gold stored here belongs to foreign governments and other international organizations, and the NY Fed simply acts as the guardian. (Fort Knox and West Point are where more American-owned gold can be found.)

Inside the vault, the gold is separated into lockers by account-holder. The very first locker, which you can see when you enter the vault, had about $2 billion worth of gold inside it. Beautiful, shining, gorgeous glowing gold. And there is locker after locker of it down there!

But the pièce de résistance is a secondary vault space, which we almost didn’t get to see because there were clients waiting to come in “to do business”. Inside this particular space was a room filled with an insane $70 billion worth of gold. In just one room!  It was unbelievable. And also amazing. And you should go see it yourself, too!

Altogether, the Fed’s current stores are valued at around $250 billion and come in at around 6,000-7,000 tons, hence why the vault is built on top of the bedrock–that’s a lot of weight! (Back in the ‘70s, though, the Fed had about 12,000 tons of gold in their vault!) The value of gold fluctuates over time, and the Fed’s stores have been dwindling over time as well, but it’s still considered to be the largest store of gold anywhere on Earth.

I highly recommend you take advantage of the opportunity to go visit the Fed and admire all that beautiful gold that’s just sitting there, all casual-like, knowing how pretty it looks. There aren’t many opportunities for average folks like me to see that amount of gold all in one place, and I assume the same probably applies to most of you. So, get your index finger ready to do some quick clicking online and book yourself a spot on one of the upcoming tours!

Plan Your Own Visit

Where to Go

  • New York Federal Reserve: 44 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038
  • Note that this is the visitor and tour entrance and you must enter here, despite the Federal Reserve being listed as located on Liberty Street.

When to Go

  • Tours are offered at 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm every weekday, except for national and bank holidays. You can access their full tour calendar on the ticket site.

Tips for Visiting

  • For the best chances of getting a ticket, you must be ready at 9:00 am, 30 days prior to the day you wish to visit, to go onto the ticketing system and reserve your space. Spots fill up almost immediately!
  • Once you confirm your spot on the tour, follow the directions for printing out your ticket. Your confirmation email will not be sufficient for entrance to the Fed.
  • You are not permitted to take photos AT ALL once you pass through security, nor are you even allowed to take your phone out! Just don’t do it.
  • Travel light, as you won’t be able to store your bags or coats anywhere during the tour.
  • Depending on who is visiting the vault for business purposes, your tour could be altered and/or cut short. Be prepared for a whirlwind visit through the vault if that’s the case! In general, though, tours last about 45 minutes to an hour.

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