Throughout human history, it’s estimated that human beings have mined 190,040 tons of gold. Although the earliest traces of gold as a valuable material date back to the Paleolithic era in 40,000 B.C., about two-thirds of all the gold ever mined has been wrested from the ground since 1950. One reason that gold has been so attractive to people across every corner of the Earth for all of recorded history is that it’s nearly indestructible, which means virtually all of that 190,040 tons is still around in one form or another. Even so, if you combined every ounce of gold ever mined into one large cube, that cube would only measure about 70 feet on each side.
Gold is malleable and ductile. It conducts heat and electricity. It resists acid; it doesn’t tarnish, and it’s one of the least reactive elements on Earth. It’s used in dentistry and medicine, electronics and computers. Most famously, however, it’s been a symbol of wealth and status for time immemorial. To this day, the vast majority of the world’s gold is used to make jewelry.
In the 6th century B.C., people produced the first true gold coins. Since then, gold’s most important function has been monetary. Gold was, and sometimes still is, a form of legal tender—used as money to purchase goods and services. It balances the portfolios of investors, both in physical and contract form. It has propped up currencies and stabilized the economies of nations and, for a few decades, of the entire world. Gold is most popular during times of crisis when people seek physical wealth they can see and hold. Gold carries much more weight both figuratively and literally than the equivalent amount of paper money. Although the value of gold is intrinsic, its price is always changing.
Stacker compiled a list of the price of gold every year since 1920. The cost of gold is from the 2019 London PM Fix average annual closing price from Kitco, and prices were adjusted by the annual CPI from 2019 BLS data. With each passing year, there is great variation in the way people use, trade, mine, value, and exchange gold. This soft but solid lustrous metal has been in use for millennia, but few centuries have proved more consequential in the history of gold than the one that just passed.
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- Average close price: $20.68 (-0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $264.23 (-13.6%)
The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 authorized and governed the leasing of public lands for mining and similar commercial operations. Before that, public land leasing for mining fell under the General Mining Act of 1872.
- Average close price: $20.58 (-0.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $293.80 (+11.2%)
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 intended the Federal Reserve to spring into action only during times of financial crisis and to exist in a state of dormancy the rest of the time—but World War I changed all that. During the war, the Federal Reserve printed massive amounts of gold-backed money and by 1921, the Federal Reserve Note accounted for half of all legal tender. National Bank Notes—issued by hundreds of smaller commercial banks—made up the rest, along with gold and silver certificates and coins, and Treasury-issued currency.
- Average close price: $20.66 (+0.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $314.25 (+7%)
In 1922, a crew of gangsters robbed the Denver mint of $200,000 in $5 bills. Known as the Great Mint Robbery, it was a shocking wake-up call about the vulnerability of America’s minting facilities, and one that would lead to dramatic security reforms in the years to come.
- Average close price: $21.32 (+3.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $318.60 (+1.4%)
In 1922, archaeologists discovered the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun, a young Pharaoh who ruled Egypt in the 14th century B.C. By 1923, the world was learning about the mounds of perfectly preserved treasures and artifacts found in the tomb, many of them made of gold. The discovery was a testament to the staying power and ancient importance of the precious metal.
- Average close price: $20.69 (-3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $309.19 (-3%)
By 1924, Americans had gotten used to gold costing at or around $20.69 an ounce. During this era of remarkable stability, the average cost of gold was almost exactly $20.69 for roughly 12 years, an unforced pricing trend that dominated the entire decade.
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- Average close price: $20.64 (-0.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $301.39 (-2.5%)
In 1925, audiences delighted over a comedic tale about the legendary Klondike Gold Rush. Charlie Chaplin, the biggest movie star in the world, wrote, produced, directed, and starred in “The Gold Rush,” a tale about gold fever gone awry. It’s remembered today as one of the finest works of his career.
- Average close price: $20.63 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $297.84 (-1.2%)
1926 was the 150-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and to honor the moment, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia produced a special coin. The gold Quarter Eagle was a $2.50 alloy piece made from 90% gold and 10% copper as part of that year’s sesquicentennial coin issue.
- Average close price: $20.64 (+0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $303.12 (+1.8%)
The 1920s were breakout years for women’s liberation, and few women stirred more consternation among conservative male traditionalists than actress Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Married six times and engaged dozens more, she was known for using divorce court as a money-generating machine at the expense of the men who came and went in her life. It’s believed that her notoriously frequent and short relationships with wealthy men spawned the colloquial term “gold digger.”
- Average close price: $20.66 (+0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $308.74 (+1.9%)
Al Smith was a four-term governor of New York and the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 1928. He was also the first Catholic ever nominated by a major party. A driving force in New York politics, he was known for flamboyance and eccentricity—and his golden smile. Gold had long been used for dental fillings, but Smith is believed to be the first prominent modern American to deck out all of his front teeth with gold caps. He smiled wide in photos, setting a trend that endures to this day.
- Average close price: $20.63 (-0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $308.29 (-0.1%)
The Great Depression can be traced to the stock market crash of 1929. This epic moment would lead to some of the most significant changes in gold policy in American history.
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- Average close price: $20.65 (+0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $315.98 (+2.5%)
In 1930, the Great Depression threw fuel onto an already chaotic political climate in Great Britain that pitted a series of political parties and ministers against each other under. In the last recorded direct political intervention by a British monarch, King George V suggested forming a national government. The coalition that emerged would have radical new ideas about the role of gold in the country’s financial system, and its actions had consequences still felt today.
- Average close price: $17.06 (-17.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $286.81 (-9.2%)
By 1931, it was clear that the global financial crisis was no passing hiccup—drastic measures had to be taken. Since the gold standard forbade governments from increasing their money supplies to stimulate the economy, Great Britain became the first nation to abandon the gold standard altogether. Many others would soon follow.
- Average close price: $20.69 (+21.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $385.92 (+34.6%)
Breaking with thousands of years of tradition, 1932 was the last year that most global societies used gold coins as money, as most would soon be confiscated and melted down. Those coins that dodged the smelter’s pot would go on to become worth far more than their weight in gold. In 1933, the U.S. Mint produced about half a million Double Eagle $20 coins, but melted them all down shortly after—all but 10, that is, which were stolen before they could be destroyed. In 2015, the thief’s descendants won a legal battle with the government to keep the 10 contraband coins, which by that time had an estimated value of $80 million.
- Average close price: $26.33 (+27.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $517.56 (+34.1%)
Many historians and economists believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s failure to drop the gold standard earlier contributed to the Great Depression. Two years after Great Britain, America followed suit in abandoning precious metal as a physical backing to U.S. currency. That same year, FDR signed Executive Order 6102, which made it a crime for U.S. citizens to own or trade gold anywhere in the world. All Americans were required to exchange gold or gold certificates with the Federal Reserve for cash.
- Average close price: $34.69 (+31.8% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $661.54 (+27.8%)
The Gold Reserve Act, the culmination of FDR’s controversial gold policy, transferred all gold holdings from the Federal Reserve to the U.S. Treasury. It also dramatically raised the price the government would pay for gold from $20.67 per ounce to $35, which incentivized reluctant Americans to turn in their gold and spurred foreign holders to sell their gold to the U.S. government. This injected massive amounts of cash into the crippled American economy.
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- Average close price: $34.84 (+0.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $649.85 (-1.8%)
One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld FDR’s actions through a series of decisions known as the Gold Clause Cases. With some exceptions, like dentists, jewelers, and other professionals who depended on gold as an industrial product, it was the law of the land that owning gold was an illegal criminal act for all American citizens. It was also illegal for people or businesses to write contracts that allowed gold as repayment.
- Average close price: $34.87 (+0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $641.05 (-1.4%)
With the U.S. government now in possession of massive stores of gold—and the Great Mint Robbery fresh in the minds of authorities—Congress established the U.S. Bullion Depository in 1936. America’s gold would now be safeguarded at Fort Knox in Kentucky, one of the most secure and secretive facilities in recorded history.
- Average close price: $34.79 (-0.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $617.37 (-3.7%)
One year later, the first shipments of gold began arriving at Fort Knox. Although the facility represents the embodiment of physical security to this day, the first deliveries were surprisingly—perhaps even recklessly—unsecured. Since large shipments of gold were too heavy to travel by plane, huge quantities of gold were delivered by train via the U.S. Postal Service.
- Average close price: $34.85 (+0.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $631.60 (+2.3%)
On four acres near the famous military academy of the same name, the West Point Bullion Depository opened in 1938. It began producing gold medals in 1980 and became a mint in 1988. Today, it’s second only to Fort Knox in terms of gold holdings.
- Average close price: $34.42 (-1.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $632.78 (+0.2%)
Although the global financial calamity that began a decade earlier had improved in fits and starts beginning in 1933, 1939 signaled the end of the Great Depression. The Dust Bowl drought had passed, the economy expanded, public works projects reduced unemployment, and the government began massive spending to prepare for a looming war.
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- Average close price: $33.85 (-1.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $617.85 (-2.4%)
By 1940, it was clear that Adolf Hitler intended to finance the enormous war effort he had launched by looting massive stores of gold from the countries his armies conquered and occupied. In the biggest gold heist in history, Hitler stole $600 million worth of gold—billions today—from the vaults and central banks of Holland, Poland, Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands, along with countless millions more in artwork, diamonds, platinum, and other assets. Expecting a Nazi invasion and a new looting spree, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered Operation Fish, which involved shipping an astonishing 1,500 metric tons of gold—worth $160 billion today—across the Atlantic to Canada’s central bank.
- Average close price: $33.85 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $588.43 (-4.8%)
On Dec. 31, 1941, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Fort Knox reached its highest historic gold holdings. That day, nearly 650 million ounces of gold were kept in the facility. By comparison, present-day holdings are about 147 million ounces.
- Average close price: $33.85 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $530.67 (-9.8%)
In 1942, the War Production Board ordered a stop to gold mining in the United States, as gold was not essential to the war effort. Instead, their operations were repurposed for mining essential metals like copper, iron, and other substances used in the production of ships, tanks, bullets, and other war necessities.
- Average close price: $33.85 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $500 (-5.8%)
In 1943, the U.S. Treasury announced that it was doing its “utmost to defeat the methods of dispossession” routinely practiced by Hitler’s war machine. In short, the U.S. was working to ensure that no looted Nazi gold found its way into U.S. business, government coffers, or the pockets of private citizens—and that it expected allied nations to follow suit.
- Average close price: $33.85 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $491.47 (-1.7%)
In 1944, leaders from the major world powers signed the Bretton Woods Agreement, which eliminated the worldwide gold standard, positioned the United States as the dominant global economic power, and set the stage for decades of global economic restructuring. The U.S. possessed three-quarters of the world’s gold, which meant no other country had enough to back its currency. The participants agreed to redeem their currency not for gold, but for U.S. dollars at a rate of 1/35 of an ounce per dollar. The U.S. dollar now replaced gold as the global economic standard.
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- Average close price: $34.71 (+2.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $492.76 (+0.3%)
At the end of World War II, the government allowed gold mining to resume, but for many in the industry, the damage had already been done. Many mines, particularly in California, were flooded, caved in, or in such a state of disrepair that bringing them back into operation was no longer financially feasible.
- Average close price: $34.71 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $454.86 (-7.7%)
Tony Morabito had been pushing for the development of West Coast football—San Francisco football, specifically—since 1942. Before that, the NFL had no teams west of Chicago. In 1946, Morabito realized his dream when the San Francisco 49ers played their first game as part of a national league. The team was named in honor of the 1849 gold rush that flooded the state with adventurous new settlers in search of fortune.
- Average close price: $34.71 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $397.75 (-12.6%)
The Materials Act of 1947 addressed useful byproducts that came from mining operations on public lands. The act allowed mines to sell, lease, or give away to the public certain common materials like sand and gravel.
- Average close price: $34.71 (0.0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $368.04 (-7.5%)
1948’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” starring Humphrey Bogart won three Oscars. The movie portrayed a pair of Americans on an adventurous hunt for gold in the mountains of Mexico. In the prosperous and modern post-war boom years, the movie stoked a renewed and romanticized interest in the gold rush days were by then well in the past.
- Average close price: $31.69 (-8.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $340.25 (-7.5%)
Well-known as a global “safe haven” investment, Swiss Helvetia 20 Franc gold coins were first minted in 1897. Smaller and easier to carry than comparable coins, 20 Franc gold Helvetias stopped being produced in 1949.
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- Average close price: $34.72 (+9.6% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $368.14 (+8.2%)
Human beings have mined about 190,000 tons of gold over the course of history, about two-thirds of which was mined between 1950 and present-day. Post-war leaps forward in technology, science, and engineering would send the mining industry into an era of unprecedented production.
- Average close price: $34.72 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $341.24 (-7.3%)
During World War II, the Federal Reserve honored a Treasury Department request to keep interest rates low to stimulate war funding through Treasury Bills. In doing so, it forfeited a large degree of independence, which was necessary to shield monetary policy from political pressure. That year, however, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve agreed at the Treasury-Fed Accord to separate monetary policy from government debt management, and the modern Fed was born.
- Average close price: $34.60 (-0.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $333.65 (-2.2%)
A technique first used in 1952 signaled the start of decades of innovation that helped the mining industry offset the decline of gold stores taken from depleted mines. That year, scientists and engineers discovered how to strip gold from granular activated carbon, allowing them to both harvest the gold and reuse the carbon.
- Average close price: $34.84 (+0.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $333.44 (-0.1%)
In 1953, rumors that the government was selling gold from Fort Knox to pay outstanding World War II bills compelled President Dwight Eisenhower to allow an audit of the highly secretive, highly secure vault. There has never been a known audit of the gold in Fort Knox before or since.
- Average close price: $35.04 (+0.6% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $332.86 (-0.2%)
In 1954, the Treasury Department amended FDR’s executive order from two decades prior that mandated government confiscation of gold from American citizens. The adjustment expanded the original exemption for rare, unusual coins to include those made prior to April 5, 1933—the exact date that FDR signed Executive Order 6102.
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- Average close price: $35.03 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $334.01 (+0.3%)
In 1955, the San Francisco Mint stopped all coining operations. It would resume coin production a decade later in 1965, and in 1988, it regained its former status as a mint.
- Average close price: $34.99 (-0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $328.72 (-1.6%)
In 1865, an act of Congress allowed the motto “In God We Trust” to be printed on all gold and silver coins minted in the United States. In 1956, the president approved a joint resolution of Congress to make this phrase the national motto.
- Average close price: $34.95 (-0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $317.83 (-3.3%)
One year later in 1957, the newly minted national motto began appearing on American money. “In God We Trust” was first printed on the one-dollar silver certificate and soon became standard on paper money and legal tender coins.
- Average close price: $35.10 (+0.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $310.36 (-2.4%)
Fourteen years after a group of world leaders met in New Hampshire’s Bretton Woods to reshape global economic policy, the system they devised became fully operational. That year, exchange controls for current account transactions were eliminated, creating a complex system of international gold and cash deficits.
- Average close price: $35.10 (0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $308.23 (-0.7%)
The Bretton Woods compact set the price of gold at $35 an ounce, but it did not regulate gold as a commodity or account for natural price fluctuations. If prices topped $35 an ounce, foreign central banks would be incentivized to exchange U.S. currency for gold, then sell the gold for a profit. Throughout the 1950s, U.S. Treasury gold holdings were rapidly depleted, putting pressure on authorities to increase the exchange rate above the longstanding $35 mark.
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- Average close price: $35.27 (+0.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $304.49 (-1.2%)
In 1960, the inevitable happened—the free market price of gold broke through the $35 mark and for the first time, topped $40 an ounce. World leaders had to act, and the actions they took would prove one of the biggest disasters in global gold policy.
- Average close price: $35.25 (-0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $301.26 (-1.1%)
In response to the 1960 $40 crisis, world leaders created a massive, independent stockpile of gold, to be held at the Bank of England, to defend the longstanding $35 pricing structure. It was called the London Gold Pool, a creation that world economic leaders would soon come to regret. It contained 240 tons of gold, half of which came from the U.S., with Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland contributing the rest.
- Average close price: $35.23 (-0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $298.10 (-1.0%)
In 1962, the Federal Reserve established its very first swap line with the Bank of France. By the end of the year, the Fed would establish similar lines with eight other key nations. These lines provided $900 million in foreign exchange.
- Average close price: $35.09 (-0.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $293.03 (-1.7%)
By the early 1960s, depleted gold mines made gold harder and more expensive to extract, yet the price of gold had been fixed at $35 an ounce since the Bretton Woods Agreement. Powerful mining interests and their political representatives lobbied hard for a price hike, but the president—first Kennedy, then Johnson—couldn’t or wouldn’t approve it. In the end, they met in the middle. The federal government agreed to spend tens of millions of dollars on one of the oddest and most secretive initiatives in the history of American gold policy: Operation Goldfinger.
- Average close price: $35.10 (+0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $289.33 (-1.3%)
Not only were mining bosses unhappy, but the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were obsessed with stockpiling more gold to be converted to U.S. dollars as the basis of the ever-expanding global economy. Unfortunately, there simply wasn’t enough gold to go around. Operation Goldfinger comprised hundreds of secretly funded research projects designed to wring gold out of the most obscure of sources, including marsh plants, deer antlers, coal ash, Colorado peat, meteorites, and seawater. The projects considered nuclear detonation to extract gold from the ground, powerful X-ray machines attached to trucks, and the use of particle accelerators to convert base metals into gold.
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- Average close price: $35.12 (+0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $284.90 (-1.5%)
The massive horde at the London Gold Pool kept prices below $35, but not for long. By 1965, inflation in U.S. currency, partially due to Vietnam War funding, caused the United States to lose $3 billion to the financial black hole that was the London Gold Pool. The entire 240 tons were worth only $270 million four years before.
- Average close price: $35.13 (+0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $277.07 (-2.8%)
After just five years, the idea that eight countries could artificially hold the global price of gold below $35 an ounce forever seemed almost comical. The following year, France became the first country to withdraw from the London Gold Pool, triggering a mad scramble among member nations to redeem their U.S. dollars for gold.
- Average close price: $34.95 (-0.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $267.40 (-3.5%)
In 1967, South Africa—with its rich gold mines—minted 50,065 one-ounce gold alloy coins with a purity of .917 (91.7%). These were called Krugerrands, and they would soon become the standard-bearer of the global gold bullion coin trade. By 1974, South Africa would mint nearly 3.2 million Krugerrands a year.
- Average close price: $38.69 (+10.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $284.10 (+6.2%)
In 1968, Congress repealed the requirement for the U.S. Treasury to maintain a gold reserve to back the U.S. dollar, and the London Gold Pool collapsed. Gold prices soared as demand increased, and the U.S. responded by increasing inflation of the money supply. An ocean of dollars flooded the U.S. Treasury, causing gold reserves to plummet to their lowest levels since 1938 as the value of the dollar was sent into free fall.
- Average close price: $41.09 (+6.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $286.10 (+0.7%)
In America’s rapidly depleting Western gold mines, a radical new process called heap leaching allowed gold to be processed from low-grade materials and even mine waste. As part of the technological and chemical mining advances that began in 1952, heap leaching allowed mining companies to extract gold from even the shoddiest materials—but at a terrible cost to the environment.
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- Average close price: $35.94 (-12.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $236.70 (-17.3%)
The Clean Air Act (CAA) authorized regulations on harmful airborne pollutants and the operations that cause them. Typical CAA mining regulations include rules regarding dust emissions, emissions from smelters and other processing facilities, and emissions from heavy mining vehicles.
- Average close price: $40.80 (+13.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $257.43 (+8.8%)
By 1971, skyrocketing inflation and an endless global run on gold forced President Nixon’s hand. He responded by ending the policy of international convertibility—the world’s stores of U.S. dollars could no longer be converted to gold. The policy temporarily slowed runaway inflation and signaled the death knell of the Bretton Woods international monetary policy.
- Average close price: $68.16 (+67.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $416.69 (+61.9%)
By 1972, the once-mighty U.S. dollar that anchored the post-war global economy had lost buying power to more valuable foreign currencies. To even things out, either they had to make their money more expensive, or the U.S. had to make its money cheaper. The world refused to budge, and President Nixon responded with another bold move—devaluing the U.S. dollar by about 11% to $38 per ounce of gold in history’s first realignment of currency exchange rates.
- Average close price: $97.32 (+42.8% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $560.11 (+34.4%)
One year later, the U.S. further devalued the dollar to $42.22 per ounce of gold, but by then, most of the world had abandoned the fixed exchange rate for a floating exchange rate. In this new post-gold monetary system, the price of a nation’s currency was based not on governmental determinations, but on supply and demand relative to other currencies on the foreign exchange market.
- Average close price: $159.26 (+63.6% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $825.50 (+47.4%)
From the time Fort Knox was established as a bullion depository, not a single non-essential visitor had ever been allowed to see the vault. In 1974, however, wild rumors that all the gold had been removed from the vault compelled officials to allow a small group of journalists to see it for themselves. Again in 2017, the vault opened to a small delegation that included Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who compared witnessing the massive mounds of gold to “seeing a leprechaun on a unicorn.”
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- Average close price: $161.02 (+1.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $764.81 (-7.4%)
In August 1974, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 93-373, which removed virtually all restrictions on private gold ownership in the United States. The law went into effect on Dec. 31, and when America woke up on New Year’s Day in 1975, it was no longer a criminal act to buy, trade, or own gold for the first time in four decades.
- Average close price: $124.84 (-22.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $560.66 (-26.7%)
Many new methods and technologies emerged in the 1970s that allowed miners to extract more gold from less material. Among them were the alcohol desorption method, which decreased the time it took to strip gold from carbon. Like so many of the new methods that emerged in the 1950s, however, massive amounts of toxic chemicals were involved, and the environmental impact of “new mining” was becoming hard to ignore.
- Average close price: $147.71 (+18.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $622.86 (+11.1%)
In 1977, Congress removed the president’s authority to regulate gold transactions during times of crisis, except during wartime. Also that year, President Ford removed the contract clause, making it legal again for contracts to be written with gold as an accepted form of repayment.
- Average close price: $193.22 (+30.8% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $757.29 (+21.6%)
In the late 1970s, the world saw King Tut’s treasures up close when the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit went on display in six cities. Between 1977 and 1979, the exhibit attracted 6 million visitors eager to see some of the oldest and most significant gold artifacts in the world.
- Average close price: $306.68 (+58.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,079.45 (+42.5%)
In 1979, Canada released its own national gold coin—the Canadian Maple Leaf. With a fineness of .9999—or .99999, in some cases—they were among the purest gold coins in the world. Although it was relatively obscure in 1979, a decade later, global politics would send the Maple Leaf into a golden age, both figuratively and literally.
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- Average close price: $612.56 (+99.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,899.66 (+76%)
In 1980, the commodities market changed forever when two oil heirs named Herbert and Nelson Hunt cornered the silver market, buying billions of dollars worth of silver and silver futures in the belief that rising inflation would send the price of precious metals skyward. By the time they were done, two men controlled all but one-third of the world’s silver. As a result, the price of the metal soared and people around the world pawned whatever silver they had before the U.S. government stepped in and put a stop to it. The Hunt brothers’ credit dried up, they missed their first margin call, and on March 27, known as “Silver Thursday,” the price of silver plunged from $48.70 to $11. It took nearly a decade for the Hunt brothers to offload their silver holdings and satisfy their creditors.
- Average close price: $460.03 (-24.9% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,293.23 (-31.9%)
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), first enacted in 1980, created a federal Superfund to manage and restore massively polluted areas, like those frequently left behind by mining operations. It also gave the EPA the right to track down those responsible for abandoning or releasing hazardous waste, force them to aid in the cleanup, and pursue them for financial damages.
- Average close price: $375.67 (-18.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $994.80 (-23.1%)
In 1982, China introduced its own national gold coin, the Gold Panda. Their elaborate and beautiful minted designs, brilliant mirror finish, and 99.9% purity made them an instant hit—China was now in the global bullion game.
- Average close price: $424.35 (+13% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,088.73 (+9.4%)
The late 1970s saw a flurry of activity at the dawn of the personal computer age, most notably the founding of Apple by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The PC era came into its own in 1981 when IBM introduced the first true personal computer for the masses. By 1983, the PC craze was transforming offices, homes, schools, and government agencies across America. It was also a lucrative new market for suppliers of the gold found in circuit boards and other critical computer components.
- Average close price: $360.48 (-15.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $886.59 (-18.6%)
By 1984, the public was demanding action on the longstanding habit of mining companies pulling whatever they could from the ground and, when the mine was no longer profitable, leaving behind a toxic wasteland. Two years later in 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which requires states to plan and budget for large-scale cleanup efforts that local communities can’t finance and manage on their own, and to keep the public informed along the way.
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- Average close price: $317.26 (-12% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $753.46 (-15%)
In 1985, President Reagan signed the Gold Bullion Act, which commanded the U.S. Treasury to mint a family of bullion coins unique to the United States, all minted from gold mined in the United States. Perhaps more importantly, it banned the import of South African Krugerrands in response to the country’s brutal Apartheid policies. Until then, the Krugerrand remained the most popular and heavily traded coin in the world, and the United States had been its biggest market by far.
- Average close price: $367.66 (+15.9% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $857.22 (+13.8%)
Reagan’s 1985 policy on South African gold, joined by virtually every other major nation in the world, sent Krugerrand sales into free fall. That year, the Canadian Maple Leaf took the Krugerrand’s place as the world’s most popular gold coin—but it wouldn’t hold the throne for long.
- Average close price: $446.46 (+21.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,004.29 (+17.2%)
In 1986, the U.S. Mint released the first American Gold Eagle, the official gold coin of the United States. It quickly became the most popular gold coin in the world, inheriting the throne from the Maple Leaf. As recently as 1984, the Krugerrand had commanded two-thirds of the global gold coin bullion market.
- Average close price: $436.94 (-2.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $943.83 (-6%)
In 1988, California’s gold production topped $320 million, most of which came from just 15 open-pit mines. They were located not in the Golden State’s traditional Sierra gold counties, but in Lake, Napa, and Yolo counties north of San Francisco, which had long been mined for mercury.
- Average close price: $381.44 (-12.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $786.07 (-16.7%)
Illegal gold mining operations in Ghana are currently threatening global chocolate supplies. A large amount of the world’s cocoa is grown there; however, much of that land has been contaminated with toxic waste from an endless patchwork of illegal small-scale gold mines. Some havoc can be traced to the country’s 1989 Small-Scale Gold Mining Act, which was originally an effort to get tiny illegal local mining operations to come out of the shadows. Instead, the result was a massive influx of gold-hungry foreign prospectors, including many from China, who destroyed the habitat in establishing one of the most over-mined places on Earth.
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- Average close price: $383.51 (+0.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $749.82 (-4.6%)
As its name implies, the Pollution Prevention Act requires commercial operations like gold mines to prevent pollution at the source which is much different than after-the-fact waste management or pollution control. It encourages cost-effective changes in raw material use, operation, and production.
- Average close price: $362.11 (-5.6% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $679.39 (-9.4%)
In 1991, India sold 20 tons of gold on the open market to raise $234 million to deal with a foreign exchange crisis. This proved to be part of a pattern—central banks around the world and in the years to come would make headlines by auctioning off national stores of gold to fill budget gaps.
- Average close price: $343.82 (-5.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $626.22 (-7.8%)
For nearly half a century since the end of World War II, major European nations sought to pool their wealth and clout and combine into a single conglomerate of nations while still retaining individual national identities and governments. By 1992, thousands of years of European history were funneled into a new and modern European idea. In 1993, the European Union (EU) was officially born—and the fledgling union would soon have its own currency.
- Average close price: $359.77 (+4.6% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $636.23 (+1.6%)
The 1916 SRHA allowed ranchers to privatize public lands originally deemed to have no value beyond livestock grazing and the growing of forage. The homesteaders could privatize the surface of those public lands, but the government held the mineral rights to anything underground—including gold. Since the government can lease public land for mining, mining operations may enter any leased land, turn it into a mine, and take whatever they find, even if people live there. The 1993 amendment didn’t change that controversial provision, it only required miners to notify residents before entering.
- Average close price: $384 (+6.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $662.12 (+4.1%)
In 1994, the falling price of gold, new environmental laws, and the ever-increasing cost of exploration and extraction forced the Sonora Mining Company to close. This essentially signaled the end of mining operations in California’s Tuolumne County and the Southern Mines.
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- Average close price: $384.17 (+0% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $644.16 (-2.7%)
In 1995, during the largely unpoliced beginning of the internet, oncologist Douglas Jackson came up to create a new digital currency backed entirely by gold—not unlike a new gold standard. He sold his medical practice and drained his savings to create E-Gold, which by 2001 had hundreds of thousands of accounts doing millions of dollars worth of transactions. Auditing and regulation problems, attacks by hackers, server overloads, and a mountain of other headaches proved too much for the bank (which was not a bank), and in 2005, the Justice Department shut down E-Gold as the internet entered the modern age.
- Average close price: $387.77 (+0.9% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $631.55 (-2%)
In the 1990s, the United Nations waged a successful campaign against so-called “blood diamonds”—stones mined in diamond-rich areas of Africa controlled by rebel groups waging bloody civil wars against governments. The campaign put sourcing at the forefront of the diamond trade and sent blood diamond sales plummeting. It would become the model for similar “blood gold” campaigns that took off in the 21st century which often dealt with the same countries and sometimes even targeted the same groups.
- Average close price: $330.98 (-14.6% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $526.96 (-16.6%)
Formed in 1989, Canadian conglomerate Bre-X Minerals announced in 1995 that it had found a massive deposit of gold in Borneo, sending its value soaring from penny stock status to $286.50 per share one year later in 1996. The problem was that there was no gold—Bre-X prospector Michael de Guzman had been “salting” regular rocks with gold shavings—first from his own wedding ring then with gold he bought to trick authenticators. In 1997, the $6 billion fraud came crashing down, the stock collapsed, and Bre-X went down as the biggest mining scandal of all time.
- Average close price: $294.24 (-11.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $461.28 (-12.5%)
After five years of existence, it was clear in 1998 that the EU needed its own universal currency, if nothing else, to make inter-Union travel and commerce easier for the member states. The coins and bills that emerged would become a powerhouse of global economics, and one of the world’s primary benchmark currencies. On New Year’s Day 1999, the European Union introduced the world’s newest currency: the euro.
- Average close price: $278.88 (-5.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $427.76 (-7.3%)
In the last year of the 20th century, concerns about reduced bullion reserves in central banks sunk the price of gold to less than $252 per ounce in August. Just two months later in October, gold reached a two-year high of $338 after European central banks reached an agreement that soothed nervous investors.
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- Average close price: $279.11 (+0.1% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $414.19 (-3.2%)
In the first year of the new millennium, the Denver Mint produced 15.4 billion coins. No single facility had ever reached that level of production in the history of the U.S. Mint.
- Average close price: $271.04 (-2.9% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $391.08 (-5.6%)
The beginning of the 21st century triggered one of the last great gold rushes, this time in an inhospitable expanse of Mongolia in 2001. By 2003, tens of thousands of Mongolians—not to mention countless foreigners—scrambled to get their share of the estimated 14 million ounces of gold believed to lie in the new, untapped veins discovered there.
- Average close price: $309.73 (+14.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $439.95 (+12.5%)
2002 signaled the end of an era for American gold mining when South Dakota’s Homestake Mine closed down. Homestake had long been the deepest and largest gold mine in North America, producing over 40 million ounces of gold and employing 2,200 people at its peak.
- Average close price: $363.28 (+17.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $504.52 (+14.7%)
The runup to the Iraq War created global instability that worried investors and made banks eager to own physical wealth they store in vaults. In February, gold reached a four-and-a-half-year high. By the end of the year, safe-haven buying sent the price above $400 an ounce, the highest trading prices seen since 1988.
- Average close price: $409.72 (+12.8% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $554.26 (+9.9%)
In 2003, the first gold-based exchange-traded fund (ETF) allowed common investors to purchase stakes in gold for comparatively minuscule amounts of money without having to authenticate, buy, possess, store, and safeguard heavy pieces of metal. Since ETFs can be traded on exchanges like stocks and bonds, they’re liquid assets that can be converted to cash with a few keyboard clicks. By 2004, gold ETFs had gone mainstream and just 10 years later their managers would oversee a combined $146.6 billion in assets.
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- Average close price: $444.74 (+8.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $581.91 (+5%)
By 2005, it was clear that the Iraq War would not be quick, easy, or inexpensive, as promised by the leaders who approved it. That year, spot gold breached $500 for the first time since 1987. Three years later, that would seem like child’s play.
- Average close price: $603.46 (+35.7% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $764.91 (+31.4%)
On Feb. 1, 2006, the Denver Mint celebrated 100 years of coin production, making it America’s oldest continuously operating U.S. Mint facility. The Denver Mint is home to the #3 largest gold reserves in America, behind only Fort Knox and West Point.
- Average close price: $695.39 (+15.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $857.03 (+12%)
In 2007, the iPhone ushered in the smartphone era, and the mountains of e-waste that had already piled up would grow ever larger. Much of that waste contained gold. There is 80 times more gold in a ton of cell phones than there is in a gold mine which spawned a new trade filled with people dedicated to finding and extracting gold from the world’s throwaway electronics. E-waste mining was born.
- Average close price: $871.96 (+25.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,034.91 (+20.8%)
The onset of the 2008 recession sent gold prices soaring, with spot gold breaking the $850 mark, then hitting an all-time high of $1,030.80 per ounce. That same year, benchmark gold contracts traded above $1,000 on the U.S. futures market for the first time in history.
- Average close price: $972.35 (+11.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,158.18 (+11.9%)
In 2009, the Canadian government launched the Green Mining Initiative, which mandated changes in how companies and people could explore for and extract gold. Its four stated goals were footprint reduction, innovation in mine-waste management, mine closure and rehabilitation, and ecosystem risk management.
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- Average close price: $1,224.53 (+25.9% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,435.01 (+23.9%)
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, it was clear that Ghana’s vast goldfields had not been as thoroughly depleted as previously thought. Following centuries of tradition, outsiders flooded into Africa to exploit its natural resources and worked with corrupt governments to extract as much mineral wealth as possible for as little as possible, often without regard to social or environmental consequences. Following historical precedent, these nations’ poor did most of the grueling work, and received the least profits.
- Average close price: $1,571.52 (+28.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,785.30 (+24.4%)
In 2011, Utah became the first state in America to declare U.S.-minted silver and gold coins as legal tender. The groundbreaking law made it legal for people in the state to use gold to pay for everyday goods and services. The passage of the Utah Legal Tender Act triggered a rush by other state legislators to pursue similar legislation.
- Average close price: $1,668.98 (+6.2% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,857.57 (+4%)
Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi seized and mined much of the Tibesti Mountains, on the Chad-Libya border, when gold was discovered there. He was eventually forced to return it to Chad, but decades of turmoil and strife rendered it a no-man's-land. The Libyan dictator was toppled and killed in 2011, but within a year, fortune hunters from across the world flooded into the troubled strip of land with gold on their minds.
- Average close price: $1,411.23 (-15.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,548.02 (-16.7%)
In 2013, Wyoming attempted to follow in the footsteps of its neighboring state, Utah, in passing the Wyoming Legal Tender Act, It sought tax-exempt and legal tender status for gold and silver, but was defeated. That same year, South Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, and Arizona either introduced or passed similar bills.
- Average close price: $1,266.40 (-10.3% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,366.98 (-11.7%)
The following year in 2014, Oklahoma joined the fray when Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 862 into law. The law recognized U.S.-minted gold and silver as legal tender and exempted both from taxation.
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- Average close price: $1,160.06 (-8.4% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,250.71 (-8.5%)
In 2015, the Wyoming Legal Tender Act was voted down once more. That same year, Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona vetoed a similar bill that passed his state legislature by a wide margin.
- Average close price: $1,250.74 (+7.8% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,331.67 (+6.5%)
Although Peru is home to most of the known gold in the Amazon, every country within the great rainforest’s reaches contains—or is believed to contain—enough gold to attract legions of treasure hunters. Most of them operate small, illegal, unreported, and environmentally disastrous mining operations. By the mid-2010s, hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine jungle were burned or otherwise cleared for illegal mining operations, and countless more were poisoned by mercury and other mining waste.
- Average close price: $1,257.12 (+0.5% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,310.55 (-1.6%)
In 2017, Texas joined the growing chorus of states calling for protections on precious metals. That year, a state senator introduced SB2097, which, if passed, would give gold and silver legal tender status while protecting the metals from seizure by state authorities.
- Average close price: $1,268.49 (+0.9% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,290.87 (-1.5%)
By 2018, it had become painfully clear that the world’s demand for gold was exhausting the Earth’s natural supply. The S&P Global Market Intelligence's annual Gold Discoveries report confirmed what industry insiders had long known—the rate of gold discoveries was continuing to decline, even as exploration costs were at record highs.
- Average close price: $1,392.60 (+9.8% compared to previous year)
- Inflation adjusted: $1,392.60 (+7.9%)
On March 8, 2019, Senate Bill 502 passed the West Virginia Legislature. The bill was signed into law on July 1, making sales of investment metal bullion and investment coins exempt from taxation in the state.
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