“Tour” of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Expectation's a funny thing.

Last week was Money Smart Week Chicago, a free week of seminars, tours, and workshops all designed around money. Being the geeks that we are, my mom and I were really excited for the Friday afternoon tour of the Federal Reserve. (It's understandable; she's a CPA/CIA and I'm an entrepreneur: two people intimately concerned with the topics of money and cash flow.)

We milled about with the other tour-goers until Jerry Nelson, a white-haired man in a gray suit, called us in to a small theater to watch a 12-minute video. He started with a Q&A session. Which lasted 48 minutes (give or take a minute or two).

Don't get me wrong - it was fascinating, for a geek. Even though we were in a dark room and I'd gotten no more than 4 hours of sleep each night of the previous week I didn't worry about nodding off. Of course, that may have had something to do with the Starburst candies my mom kept sneaking me, just like when we were in church and she'd pass me a Lifesaver to keep me quiet. (To this day every time I go to church I can taste the cherry and pineapple flavors.)

Expectation’s a funny thing.

Last week was Money Smart Week Chicago, a free week of seminars, tours, and workshops all designed around money. Being the geeks that we are, my mom and I were really excited for the Friday afternoon tour of the Federal Reserve. (It’s understandable; she’s a CPA/CIA and I’m an entrepreneur: two people intimately concerned with the topics of money and cash flow.)

We milled about with the other tour-goers until Jerry Nelson, a white-haired man in a gray suit, called us in to a small theater to watch a 12-minute video. He started with a Q&A session. Which lasted 48 minutes (give or take a minute or two).

Don’t get me wrong – it was fascinating, for a geek. Even though we were in a dark room and I’d gotten no more than 4 hours of sleep each night of the previous week I didn’t worry about nodding off. Of course, that may have had something to do with the Starburst candies my mom kept sneaking me, just like when we were in church and she’d pass me a Lifesaver to keep me quiet. (To this day every time I go to church I can taste the cherry and pineapple flavors.)

Much of the entertainment was Jerry himself. He would variously go from using Dennis Miller-type phrases – “misguided machinations of the cognitively impaired” – to blunt expressions of what he thought of certain concepts, which he defended by saying “I’m a mean old man and I’m going to tell you what I think, and what are they going to do about it.”

What impressed me was his ability to answer a question with multiple statistics and facts and figures without a moment’s hesitation. (Did you know that only one counterfeit $2 bill has ever been found, that there’s one counterfeit for every 10,000 bills, the conviction rate is 98.6%, and that the only operation that can replicate the watermark within the bill is run by the Ayatollah in Tehran?)

After the video, which was well-produced, if a little dated, the “tour” began. The tour of the museum. Which is about the size of a one bedroom house. The museum does have some really cool exhibits, like what a million dollars looks like, and picking a counterfeit bill from a real one, but we were expecting a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago!

Now of course I realize how silly that idea is. On the video they didn’t even show the faces of the people working with the cash in the reserve. Since the best counterfeiters in the world are operated by known terrorist organizations (according to Jerry and the video) it would be foolhardy to invite people within the vaults.

Without that expectation Mom and I would have left happy and dreamt of dollars and cents with wings that night. With that expecation we felt somewhat let-down. She did especially because she worked her office schedule around the “tour”.

When you’re looking for things to do in Chicago, and you see that the Federal Reserve is offering tours, don’t expect to get behind those big vault doors and see stacks of cash behind bulletproof plexiglass. Expect to be entertained and educated by a video, a knowledgeable guide, and interesting exhibits, and you won’t leave feeling like the Fed’s just raised interest rates again.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum
230 S LaSalle St
Hours: Mon – Fri 9am to 4pm except on bank holidays
Tours – of the museum! – daily at 1pm

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