New York and DC are piles of ash, but at least your checks are clearing. That was the idea behind the Culpeper Switch, a sprawling bunker built by the Federal Reserve to keep the banks running after nuclear apocalypse. But even some Cold War-era politicians thought it was silly.
The compound was built just outside the small town of Culpeper, Virginia, near Mount Pony, in 1969. The 135,000 square foot facility was officially called the Federal Reserve System’s Communications and Records Center, and it housed about $4 billion of American currency during the 1970s — currency sitting in what was reportedly the world’s largest single-floor vault at the time.
A bank for the end of the world
The underground compound was supposed to serve as the country’s Federal Reserve headquarters in case of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If things were looking particularly dicey with the Reds, a select group of Federal Reserve employees and their families were instructed to hightail it over to the Culpeper Switch.
Aside from holding an insane amount of cash, the Culpeper Switch was also the nerve center for a state-of-the art national computer network. This network, sometimes called the FedWire, would let the country’s banks talk to each other and exchange money just as they had before all-out nuclear war had reared its radioactive head.
But what good is $4 billion in currency and a national computer network if most of the United States looks like a scene from one of the Twilight Zone’s darker episodes? That’s what many politicians couldn’t help but ask. Despite the fact that a new executive order signed by President Nixon in 1969 explicitly called on the Fed to make just those kinds of preparations.