A Brief History of Inaugural Medals
As the Nation has grown and evolved over the last 230 years, so too has the practice of commemorating the ascension of the President of the United States.
The fledgling Congress authorized several medals during and shortly following the Revolutionary War to memorialize the conflict. Most of these early issues were struck in France. The first medal produced on American soil featured a portrait of George Washington shortly after his election to the newly established presidency.
Beginning in 1801, the U.S. Mint produced so-called “Peace Medals” to be gifted to leaders of Native American tribes. These diplomatic medals continued a long European tradition in the New World and were intended to build relationships with the indigenous Americans. From the Thomas Jefferson Administration to the Benjamin Harrison Administration, the Peace Medals showcased a portrait of the chief executive and, usually, hands clasped in “Peace and Friendship.”
Eventually, the Peace Medals gave way to the modern “Presidential Series,” by which the U.S. Mint honors each incoming president on his inauguration. For the most part, the Presidential Series (and its Peace Medal forerunners) continue to be manufactured in significant quantities. These medals, though striking, are not the subject of this volume.
Instead, this site focuses on “Official Inaugural Medals” – those commemoratives authorized by each Presidential Inaugural Committee since 1901. Such organizing committees began to take shape as early as 1837, when the group planning the Martin Van Buren inauguration ordered itself identifying ribbons. The tradition of distributing self-identifying pins continued until 1889, when the customary badge was adorned with a medallion bearing the likeness of Benjamin Harrison.
In 1901, the Presidential Inaugural Committee distributed stand-alone souvenir medals to its members and presented replicas to the president and vice president. By 1929, these committee-sanctioned medals were being sold to the public and, by 1953, had become a highly commercialized means of funding the inaugural celebrations. This medallic tradition continued through the Donald Trump Administration and will likely endure into the future.