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Congressional Gold Medal

Congressional Gold Medal

The Congressional Gold Medal is the oldest and highest civilian award in the United States, alongside the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is bestowed by vote of the United States Congress. The Gold Medal seeks to impart the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions.

The congressional practice of issuing gold medals to occasionally honor recipients began with members of the military during the American Revolution. The practice soon extended to individuals in all walks of life and in the late 20th century also to groups. The congressional medal seeks to honor those, individually or as a group, "who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient's field long after the achievement."

There is no general statutory scheme for creation of the award: when a Congressional Gold Medal is deemed appropriate, Congress by legislative action provides for the creation of each medal by passing a specific law to that effect. Each chamber of Congress (the House and the Senate) also imposes super-majority sponsorship rules to begin consideration. Each medal is ordered to be appropriately designed-uniquely and cast in gold by the United States Mint. Thus, there are generally fewer gold medals than presidential medals. U.S. citizenship is not a requirement. As of November 29, 2023, 184 people, events, or institutions have been awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.


Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The medal was first awarded in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress to General George Washington. Although the first recipients were military figures who participated in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War, Congress broadened the scope of the medal to include actors, authors, entertainers, musicians, pioneers in aeronautics and space, explorers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, athletes, humanitarians, public servants, and foreign recipients. The medal is normally awarded to persons, but in 1979 the American Red Cross became the first organization to be honored with a gold medal.

As of 2021, at least 5 people had been awarded more than one gold medal: Winfield Scott (1814 for the War of 1812 and 1848 for the Mexican–American War), Zachary Taylor (1846, 1847, and 1848 for the Mexican–American War), Lincoln Ellsworth (1928 and 1936 for polar exploration), Hyman G. Rickover (1958 for the "Nuclear Navy" and 1982 for his entire career), and Staff Sergeant Warner Katz (Office of Strategic Services and Merrill's Marauders WW2 also the first Merrill's Marauder to kill a Japanese Soldier).

Process of awarding

A difference between a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom is that the Presidential Medal of Freedom is personally awarded by the President of the United States, while Congressional Gold Medals are awarded by Acts of Congress. Congress may, however, authorize the President to present the award.

Per committee rules, legislation bestowing a Congressional Gold Medal upon a recipient must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of the membership of both the House of Representatives and the Senate before their respective committees—the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs—will consider it.

A Congressional Gold Medal is designed by the United States Mint to specifically commemorate the person and achievement for which the medal is awarded. Medals are therefore different in appearance, and there is no standard design. Congressional Gold Medals are considered non-portable, meaning that they are not meant to be worn on a uniform or other clothing, but rather displayed.

In rare instances, miniature versions have been made or converted for wear on clothing, suspended from a ribbon. Examples are the Cardenas Medal for Frank H. Newcomb, the Jarvis Medal for David H. Jarvis, the Jeannette Medal for the men of the Jeannette expedition, the Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal for the men of the First Byrd expedition of 1928–1930, and the NC-4 Medal for the men who completed the first transatlantic flight in May 1919. The latter was authorized in 1935 by Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 74–43 allowing the Secretary of the Navy to authorize—at his discretion—the wearing of commemorative or other special awards on Navy or Marine Corps uniforms, in military-sized form.

Often, bronze versions of the medals are struck for sale by the U.S. Mint, and may be available in both larger and smaller sizes. In at least one case, the John Wayne Congressional Medal, private dealers bought large numbers of the bronze version. They were then gold plated and resold to the public for a significant profit.

The Congressional Gold Medal is distinct from the Medal of Honor, a military decoration for extreme bravery in action, and from the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, presented by NASA for extraordinary accomplishment in United States space exploration.


See also

  • Awards and decorations of the United States government
  • Congressional Silver Medal
  • Congressional Bronze Medal
  • Thanks of Congress


Further reading

  • Snowden, James Ross (1809–1878) (1861). A Description of the Medals of Washington; and of Other Objects of Interest in the Museum of the Mint. Illustrated, to Which Are Added Biographical Notices of the Directors of the Mint from 1792 to the year 1851. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co.

External links

  • List of recipients
  • Loubat, J. F. and Jacquemart, Jules, Illustrator, The Medallic History of the United States of America 1776–1876.

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Congressional Gold Medal by Wikipedia (Historical)