These days, protecting your valuables usually means encrypting data and setting up firewalls —— but for more tangible treasures, safes and vaults have been the chosen means of security since ancient Egyptian times. As metallurgy has evolved over the centuries, the construction of these safes has become something of an art.
We’re going back in time to explore some of the most intense, burglary-proof safes and vaults in history — a few have even survived nuclear blasts!
Buried in a Nordic mountain, behind four steel doors lies the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This fortress houses a unique treasure: more than 500,000 of the world’s plant species. Located 620 miles south of the North Pole and 430 feet above sea level, the vault is both safe from water, and buried so deep in the mountains that even a nuclear holocaust wouldn’t be enough to penetrate its walls.
When the U.S. dropped its nuclear bomb— nicknamed Little Boy— on Hiroshima, the town and its people were almost completely destroyed. However, four structures survived: the Mosler safes at Teikoku Bank. Naturally, the Mosler company used this as marketing fodder for the next decade.
This decommissioned Hudson Valley iron mine houses valuable relics, including the original photo of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue and Thomas Edison’s patent for the light bulb. It also safeguards confidential recordings, documents, and photos from the US government, Warner Brothers, and the Smithsonian Institute. It’s protected by two waves of armed guards who oversee the entrance at all times.
Over $270 billion of gold bullion is hidden away in this three-story bunker, located just a few blocks away from Wall Street; that’s 25% of the world’s supply of gold. Much of this gold belongs to foreign entities who trust that the vault— which is buried 80 feet below ground, surrounded by solid rock on all sides, and locked behind a 90-ton steel door— will keep it secure.
During WWII, the bank surrounding this vault was reduced to rubble, but the vault itself stood undamaged. Nicknamed the “catacombs of London,” you can actually walk through the vaults freely and explore one of the world’s largest displays of precious metals, protected behind iron doors.
Another Mosler-engineered vault, this one withstood a nuclear bomb at a testing site in the Nevada desert. Code named Priscilla, the detonation destroyed the concrete and wires surrounding the vault base, but left the structure itself standing (and the bank notes inside largely undamaged).
A former civil defense center, Bunker Pionen was built into the White Mountains outside of Stockholm, Sweden, to protect against nuclear strikes. In 2008, it was converted into a data center by the Swedish Internet provider Bahnhof. It is now home to the servers for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange’s precious computers, 100 feet below ground level and behind a 1.5-foot thick steel door. The bunker is equipped with backup generators that can keep it powered for several weeks, much to the dismay of the US State Department.
This impenetrable gold vault houses most of the United States’ gold reserves, as well as other precious items belonging to the government. It’s surrounded by four fences, two of which are electric, as well as armed guards lining the entire perimeter. The granite walls are four feet thick and held together by 750 feet of reinforcing steel. The actual vault door itself weighs 22 tons. For an added layer of protection, no one staff member knows the entire combination needed to open the door — instead, that knowledge must be pieced together from multiple sources.