The First Congressional Medal
So, you think that Congress is slow to act now?
The medal above was commissioned by Congress in 1776 to honor General George Washington for his role in forcing the British to abandon the besieged city of Boston.
A gold one was to be struck and given to General Washington. Silver ones would be struck and given to dignitaries and VIPs.
The front of the coin, which should look a little familiar is based on the bust of Washington Jean-Antoine Houdon. The back side showed a scene of Washington and four of his men on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.
Over the next twelve years, Congress would authorize six additional medals. In 1777 they honored General Horatio Gates and 1779 General Anthony Wayne. Major Henry Lee, General’s Morgan and Greene would follow over the next couple of years and the last of the era went to John Paul Jones for his capture of the Serapis.
So about the delay. Congress approved each of these medals in a quick form, but it turned out that there was nowhere in the colonies that could actually produce the medals. So they looked to France to produce the awards. And they took their time.
On March 21, 1790, President Thomas Jefferson presented former President Washington with his medal. Also as a box containing the other five medals commissioned fourteen years after they were ordered. If only they had Amazon!
Over the years the Congressional gold medals would be given to prominent military men. Later recipients would expand to include actors, artists, musicians and other entertainers.