Sixteen to one is the arbitrary ratio of the number of ounces of silver equal in value to one ounce of gold in the bi-metallic monetary system established by Portugal in 1688. The ratio had profound effects on the world's monetary arrangements for many years, and was adopted by the United States of America in 1792.
The sixteen to one system was dropped by the United States in 1873, enraging the silver producers. William Jennings Bryan advocated a return to the sixteen to one policy in his presidential campaign of 1896, claiming that the inflationary effect of flooding the market with silver ("free silver") would benefit the common man's ability to pay his debts. However, when William McKinley defeated him, the issue was considered dead thereafter and the gold standard remained firmly in place.
In February 1934, in response to the pressures of the depression, the government reduced the value of the dollar to 59.06% of its previous amount - increasing the price of gold from $20.67 to $35.00 per ounce. On March 17, 1968, the London Gold Pool was dissolved and the United States went off the gold standard, meaning that gold was no longer a valid support for paper money and the price of gold would now fluctuate with supply and demand and the whims of "the politicians". In 1975, private individuals were allowed to own gold. Gold prices peaked at $850 an ounce in 1980, followed by a low of $284 an ounce in 1985. The price remained fairly consistent at $350 to $400 an ounce for the past decade. Recent prices of gold established a new low of approximately $253.00 an ounce.