The Carnegie Medal is a bronze medallion three inches in diameter and is awarded to civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
Andrew Carnegie’s profile in relief dominates the obverse of the medal. The reverse carries as background, in low relief, the outline of the United States and Canada, the Commission’s field of operation, and the seals of the two countries appear in high relief. The reverse of the medal centers on the cartouche, or inscription plate, which carries an embossed statement naming the rescuer, the rescued, and the place and date of the heroic act.
The cartouche is adorned with laurel, ivy, oak, and thistle, respectively
signifying glory, friendship, strength, and persistence – the attributes of
a hero. A verse from the New Testament encircles the outer edge: “Greater
love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Early medals awarded by the Commission were struck in bronze, silver, and gold, with distinction of medal grade contingent on the Commission’s assessment of the heroic act being recognized. Changes in awarding policies over the years precluded the issuance of gold medals to individuals, and by 1981 the issuance of silver medals was discontinued. Nineteen gold medals had been awarded to individuals, the last being Charles L. Coe, 30, of Burkburnett, Texas, who died in a fire rescue act in 1923. The last of the 617 silver medals went to Brian Mervyn Clegg and Robert Stephen Grant for their rescue of three individuals from exposure in a downed airplane in Lake of the Woods, Kenora, Ont., in 1979.
The design of the medal went untouched for the first 100 years of its existence. The Commission’s centennial in 2004 prompted a design review, resulting in subtle changes. Notably, medals awarded in the centennial year carried a banner across the base of the obverse: 1904-ONE HUNDRED YEARS-2004, and the bust of Andrew Carnegie was modified by sculptor Luigi Badia of Somers, N.Y. On the reverse, the seal of Newfoundland — the colony having become a province of Canada in 1949 — was dropped, and detail work in the flora was simplified to make the elements more recognizable.
The Carnegie Medal is produced by Simons Brothers Co. of Philadelphia, Pa. Metallic content of the bronze used is copper, 90%, and zinc, 10%.