This week in 1925, Charles Lindbergh completed the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic in his custom-built plane the Spirit of St. Louis. He took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island and landed at the Le Bourget airfield near Paris 33.5 hours later, having flown over 3600 miles. A crowd of 150,000 spectators greeted his arrival, and the feat brought Lindbergh fame and fortune, if not lasting happiness. In recognition of his bold endeavor, a joint resolution of Congress (45 Stat. 490) providing $1500 for a commemorative medal was passed and signed by President Calvin Coolidge on May 12, 1928.
The commission was awarded to sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966), who was a particularly good and prolific medallic artist. The photograph to the right shows her at work in the studio she shared with her husband, sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876-1953). [Note that she is working on this medal for the monthly magazine Woman’s Home Companion.] After some back and forth with Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon over the design, it was finally approved in April 1930. This was not the last battle between the two as a few years later Mellon infamously overlooked her design for the US quarter in favor of John Flanagan’s oft-derided bust of Washington that still graces the coin today. The United States Mint cast one gold medal and many more bronze duplicates, which were sold to the public for $1 plus 10 cents postage. The singular gold medal was awarded to Lindbergh by President Hebert Hoover in a simple ceremony held at the White House on August 15, 1930.
Lindbergh was typically modest, with the New York Times going so far as to note his “embarrassment” at the pomp of the occasion. The medal itself is a fine example of Laura Gardin Fraser’s skill, as you can see in this bronze copy, which is one of six held by the ANS.
The reverse appears to have been inspired by one of Lindbergh’s nicknames, “The Lone Eagle.” The Congressional Gold Medal is but one of dozens of numismatic tributes to Charles Lindbergh’s achievement, and we will take a look at another one around this time next year.
For more on Laura Hardin Fraser’s numismatic career, see the James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers at Syracuse University.