I have wanted to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Money Museum ever since discovering it while reading Scene Magazine’s Cleveland Bucket List in way back in 2013. Although my husband once took the girls, the boys and I never had the opportunity to explore the Money Museum. So I was thrilled when the Money Museum contacted me and invited my family for a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank and the Money Museum!
We started the evening with an insider’s tour of the architecturally impressive Federal Reserve Bank. This national historic landmark opened on August 23, 1923 and has many hidden features that are reminiscent of security of that time such as removable panels in the ceiling and hollow statue bases in the front of the building (although the bases are now filled in) for armed guards to protect the bank from the mob and other bank robbers. Even before knowing these hidden secrets, I was blown away by the beauty of the lobby: gold-leaf, marble, hand-painted ceilings. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is truly a work of art.
The next stop on our tour was to one of the safest vaults in the world. At 6 feet thick and weighing in at 106 tons the vault door is the largest in the world! However, because the door is so precisely balanced, it can be shut by a single person although bank protocol required multiple people were present when closing the vault. One day in the 1950s, they had difficulty closing the vault door. The next morning when the vault was opened they found a paperclip that is now permanently embedded in the vault.
I expected the inside of the vault to be a big empty room, where they would have kept stacks of money and gold bars. However, the inside looks much like a prison, only the bars were to keep the bad guys out instead of in. Although this impressive vault’s usage was discontinued in 1997, I’m so glad they have kept it for posterity.
We then headed up to the 8th floor of the Federal Reserve Bank. Although we were not permitted to take photos on this portion of the tour for security reasons, I did find some pictures online that you can view here. This floor houses high-level offices and meeting rooms and has been meticulously restored. The walls are hand-stenciled with black walnut panels. There are also some removable panels in the walls where armed guards would stand watch. I think the most impressive aspect was the ceilings. Fire codes prohibited wood ceilings in large buildings when the Federal Reserve Bank was built, so the plaster ceilings are hand-painted to look like wood, and they certainly do!
Next we headed to the Money Museum to learn about the history of money and how it has evolved over time. I was incredibly surprised at how interactive and engaging we found the museum. After a brief display on the history and future of money, there is a fabulous interactive game that really brings home the point about why money is needed and why we don’t simply trade goods to get what we want.Next you are introduced to the Island of Yap and their unique stone money. Their stones, which look like a large mill stone, are harvested from the mountains of the Pallous Islands. I love that the value of the stones is not determined by size, but rather the difficulty of the journey to obtain it. The stones do not have to be in one’s possession for ownership to be determined, in fact they are rarely moved. One stone fell into the ocean while being transported back to Yap, but because they know it exists, it is still owned and used as currency. Although the official currency of Yap is now the U.S. dollar, the stone money is still used for some types of transactions, such as for land.
This is followed by a brief movie that is fabulous transition between the stone money of Yap and modern currency. As someone who will usually skip a movie at a museum as they are often outdated and not very engaging, I was a bit bummed when my kids wanted to watch it. I am so glad we did. This is one of the best movies I have seen in a museum. It was interesting and informative without becoming stale. I may have to rethink my museum movie philosophy. You leave the movie knowing the four characteristics something must have to be used as money. I could not remember one of the characteristics later that evening when I was telling my husband about our experience, and one of my sons chimed in with it right away! He was listening and learning as well!
After the movie you find yourself under the museum’s 23-foot oak money tree. There are four adorable squirrels in the tree which reinforce the four characteristics of money you just learned about in the movie. The tree’s leaves are made of approximately 3000 copies of old money. The money is slightly smaller than the actual bills and the fronts and backs of the leaves don’t match as not to produce counterfeit bills.
Next we tested our skills at finding counterfeit bills. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland receives a few counterfeit bills each day, which is not many compared to some other Federal Reserve Banks. The Federal Reserve Bank also destroys paper money that has been damaged. About 17 of every 100 bills that come into the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland are destroyed which results in 4 1/2 tons of shredded money a week. This money was once burned or put in landfills, but now is composted by Rosby Berry Farm in Brooklyn Heights.
Did you know it is not illegal to make your own money? You all likely have some private money in your possession in the form of a gift card. There was a fun exhibit where you could attempt to match the old private money with the company that issued it.
The other highlights of the Museum included an interactive computer exhibit on money around the word and designing your own million dollar bill complete with your photo in the center! My youngest also enjoy doing crayon rubbings over different templates to make money prints.
There are a lot of additional exhibits such as a million dollar puzzle, why some historians think The Wizard of Oz is an allegory recounting an important debate in the history of American money. how savings adds up, the history and debates surrounding central banking in America, a giant dollar bill you can put your head in for a photo, how U.S. currency has changed yet maintained a uniform look over time, the art of money, money-making tools, and money slang. Many of these exhibits where signs and photos you could read and not as interactive and engaging. However, I am sure a history buff would enjoy them.
As you exit the Money Museum, don’ forget to pick up a FREE bag of shredded money. A super-fun way to remember the museum!
The Money Museum is FREE and open Monday through Thursday from 9:30am to 2:30pm. They are closed all bank holidays. Be prepared to go through security, including a metal detector when entering the Federal Reserve Bank. Visitors ages 16 years and older must present a valid ID to enter the building. Allot at least 1 hour to tour the Money Museum.
Free tours of the Federal Reserve Bank are available for high school and college students, educators, business and professional associations, and community organizations. It is recommended to make tour reservations several months in advance.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend this tour of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and Money Museum with my family with other local bloggers. While there, my family and I received dinner and swag bags. As always, all opinions are completely my own.