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Issue Date: August 2007 Issue


Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Vaults


Written by Heidi Aungst, Photograph by Jamie Janos

One of the vaults at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on East Sixth Street is an engineering wonder, the other, a technological marvel.

The old vault, used from 1923 to 1996, is distinguished by its 100-ton, round steel door, which is 10 feet in diameter and 5 feet thick. On the inside, the old vault looks like an abandoned jail with antiquated metal bars and locks.

Tour groups can now enter the old vault, but they can only view the new one from a distance, usually behind a glass window and around a corner.

The new vault — which opened in 1997 — is not at all as beautiful, but is, nevertheless, remarkable in its technological advancement. Humans never need to enter here — except for occasional maintenance.

Four yellow robots (technically, automated guided vehicles) — with the nicknames Gopher, Road Runner, Taz and Speedy — buzz in and out of the heavily secured vault. Magnets in the floor guide the AGVs’ paths, and each recharges automatically on a copper plate every time it drops off or picks up a Plexiglas container of cold, hard cash — in awe-inspiring amounts.

Mike Kelly, manager of the cash department, is tight-lipped about how much money is really in there — stored for banks in six states. But as Gopher beeps its warning signals and zips by, Kelly gives a hint.

“That’s most likely a batch of 20s. … So that’s roughly $8.6 million,” Kelly says, matter-offactly. “If that was filled with hundreds, it would be roughly $43 million.”

And that’s just one container. The vault holds 1,328 containers of bills in all denominations, stacked three stories high. You do the math.


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