News / USA

US Congressional Gold Medal Program Has Long History

Deborah Tate
Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.  Members of Congress have bestowed the honor on hundreds of individuals over the course of American history. 

Aung San Suu Kyi is the latest recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian award.

Congress bestows the honor on an individual for a distinguished contribution or a lifetime of service.

Donald Ritchie is Historian of the U.S. Senate.

"The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded by Congress, and it is a way to signify some great achievement," he said. "It can be to an American citizen, it can be to a non-citizen - someone whom Americans admire."

First presented to General George Washington in 1776, the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to individuals from all walks of life.

They include - aeronautical pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright, actor John Wayne, and composer Aaron Copland, whose "Fanfare for the Common Man" has become one of the most recognizable pieces in American classical music.

Other recipients include U.S Presidents Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, singer Frank Sinatra, painter Andrew Wyeth, athletes Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson, poet Robert Frost, Generals George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur, composer George Gershwin and film producer and animator Walt Disney.

Recipients who are non-U.S. citizens include two British prime ministers - Winston Churchill and Tony Blair, former South African President Nelson Mandela, the late Pope John Paul II, Holocaust survivor and political activist Elie Wiesel and Mother Teresa.

Congressional legislation is required to make each medal.  Once the legislation is passed, Congress commissions the U.S. Mint to design and create the medal, although it was not always that way.

"The first medals, back in the 18th century, were struck in Paris rather than in the United States because Americans hadn't really developed those skills at the time," said Ritchie. "It requires a very skilled artisan to create almost a work of art, a medal struck for a particular person."

Each medal is unique - depicting the individual or the event honored.

Although the Congressional Gold Medal is usually awarded at a ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol, that is not always the case.

In 1981, Canadian Ambassador to Iran Kenneth Taylor received the medal at a White House ceremony for his efforts to secure the safe return of American hostages being held in Tehran.

"That was a slightly unusual circumstance," said Ritchie. "That was a situation where diplomats had been taken hostage in Iran, and the Canadian Embassy had actually hid some Americans who could have been held prisoner, and so they jeopardized their own positions.   Once the hostages were released and this became known, the president wanted to pay tribute [to the ambassador]."

Congress awards the medal when it believes it is appropriate, rather than on any set schedule.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More