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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid