Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Touring the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Taking a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) in San Francisco  is an educational, fascinating thing to do. The western branch of the United States' Central Bank is the largest one in the country, and a great resource for learning how American currency works.

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For tourists or locals sightseeing in one of the most expensive cities in America, the best thing about the tour is that it is no-cost. It begins in The Fed Center lobby at 101 Market Street, located above the Embarcadero Bart Train Station. The area itself is a tourist spot, near the Ferry BuildingEmbarcadero Center and Embarcadero Promenade, for those interested in more exploring afterwards.

First, every visitor must have a photo I.D. and go through security checks similar to airport security procedures. No cell phones are allowed inside, and the place is understandably guarded with bullet-proof glass, sensors and cameras to ensure complete safety. Once inside, a hallway lined with flags leads to a room with a map on the wall with the twelve Federal Reserve Bank locations and their branches. San Francisco's includes the States of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, plus the territories of the Pacific Islands. The FRB's purpose is to be an economic shock absorber, protecting the economy from its boom and bust cycles. The FRB's monetary policy is twofold: to help the economy maintain stable prices and to have maximum employment.

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Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
101 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Then visitors take an elevator to the shipping and receiving area in the basement. Money is the product the FRB processes, and massive amounts of it are taken in and out. Though bills as high as $100,000 were printed in the past, the highest denomination today is for $100. Workers operate under several checks and balances to make theft an impossibility, as millions of dollars daily pass through their hands.

Across the hall is a massive warehouse acting as a vault, and visitors can peer through its gated entry before moving on to the counting room, where dollar bills are examined and judged as fit, unfit or counterfeit. Bills in good condition sail through, but tattered ones totaling about $75,000,000 per day are shredded. The ones suspected to be counterfeit are set aside for the United States Secret Service to investigate, a duty they have in addition to protecting the President.

The tour progresses to the Currency Theater and Museum, where a short video is viewed before people peruse one of the rarest collections of currency in the world. Historic dollar bills line the room, starting with continental currency printed during colonial times. Engraved notes by Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere inspire awe, but each bill in the collection is priceless. After the American Revolution, private notes were used until the Civil War era, which spawned Union and Confederate notes, and interesting fractional dollar notes were circulated. The FRB came into being in 1913, which allowed a central currency, and a world currency that started during World War II. A $1,000 watermelon note similar to one in this collection recently sold at auction for 3.4 million, indicating how precious this collection is.

Visit the Federal Reserve Bank

The tour ends in a large exhibit area with interactive displays that teach facts about money and American finance. Also, each visitor receives a souvenir packet of genuine shredded U.S. dollars, which the FRB has such an abundance of, they recycle the paper into roof shingles, insulation and fireplace logs.

A limited number of people are allowed in each tour, which are scheduled two weeks ahead of time. For those interested in going, they will need to sign up on the FRB's website. The entire presentation takes ninety minutes. For those looking for something unique to do in San Francisco or are simply interested in how the Federal Reserve works, it is well worth the time spent.

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