Learn how the Fed works by visiting a money museum

15 08 2011

The Federal Reserve – aka the Fed – is the central bank of the United States. Established by Congress in 1913, the Fed is responsible for the stability of the nation’s banking system; managing monetary policy with an eye toward a sound & stable U.S. economy; and providing services to the U.S. government and financial institutions, such as check & electronic payment processing. At times, it may seem the Fed is acting in strange & mysterious ways, but much of its practices and the methods by which it conducts its business is quite open and readily accessible in the form of visitor’s centers and online information.

Atlanta, GA

The bronze eagle sculpture outside the visitor's entrance to the Atlanta Fed weighs more than 2,800 pounds

There are 12 Federal Reserve banks and 24 bank branches in the United States. Many of the banks and branches have visitor’s centers with informative money museums inside. The museums’ exhibits range from displays of older forms of money no longer in circulation to interactive multimedia displays which allow visitors to test their own skills at managing monetary policy. Exhibits also provide a history of banking in the United States covering topics such as the country’s earliest experiences with private banks that issued their own currency or how the Federal Reserve influenced & managed policies during the Great Depression of the early 20th century.

To help visitors understand the business of the Fed and its impact on everyday lives, displays cover topics such as inflation’s impact on prices and the economics of supply & demand. The centers also explain the face of the Fed – its Board of Governors – and each banks’ Board of Directors as well as what the Federal Open Market Committee is and how it operates. A favorite exhibit at each museum is seeing millions of dollars of currency on display, being moved by robotic forklifts, or physically sitting in the bank’s vaults.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s money museums are free – taxpayer money at work – and generally open during normal business hours. Group tours are generally available with advance reservations, and visits by scholars studying economics & finance may be possible, too. For school groups, banks may offer special tours to satisfy curriculum requirements and study publications may be available. The Chicago and Richmond Federal Reserve banks operate virtual money museums online.

When visiting a Federal Reserve bank, ask if they are giving away any money today: You might be rewarded with a bag of shredded currency no longer in circulation.

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