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Photo of the Great Americans medal

Yo-Yo Ma


May 9, 2023

Photo of Smithsonian Great Americans National Museum of American History award emblem

The Great Americans Medal is awarded for lifetime contributions embodying American ideas and ideals, and honors individuals who have not only made a lasting impact in their fields, but whose philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors set them apart.

The Great Americans Award Program, supported by former Smithsonian Regent David M. Rubenstein, features an interview with the recipient by Rubenstein before the medal presentation.

“This awards program connects an honoree’s accomplishments and influence on American history to the museum’s collections and exhibitions for a broader understanding of our shared democracy and values,” said Anthea M. Hartig, PhD, the museum’s Elizabeth MacMillan Director.

The specially-minted presentation medal was struck in Wisconsin in 1.85 ounces of fine gold. It is 1.5 inches in diameter and features an American eagle with sun rays on the obverse or “head’s” side with the words “Great Americans” and “National Museum of American History” engraved around the edge. The reverse side honors one of the museum’s most important treasures, the Star-Spangled Banner, and includes the mission of the Smithsonian: “For the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The medal was inspired by the rare Double Eagle coins designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, enlisted in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt to design the $20 gold piece. The medal was made possible by museum board member Jeff Garrett and designed by Michael Guilfoyle, an international designer of coins and medals.

The Great Americans Medal is presented annually to up to two recipients. Previous honorees include Secretary Madeleine K. Albright, General Colin L. Powell, USA (Retired), Thomas J. Brokaw, Cal Ripken Jr., Billie Jean King, Paul Simon, and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.