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Fort Knox, an Impregnable Monument to Security Theater

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- During the panic of 1792, the Bank of North America tried to stave off a run by having employees “carry its specie busily to and from the cellar in order to give a magnified notion of what it had,” historian Bray Hammond wrote. Bank managers “ostentatiously brought in deposits of gold and silver that had unostentatiously been carried out a little while before.”

The show of specie reassured jittery customers, saving the bank from failure. As a young clerk in Iowa during the panic of 1907, Hammond recalled employing exactly the same dodge: heaping impressively large sacks of low-value coin in plain view and ostentatiously counting it to give the impression of overflowing vaults.