Theodore Newton Vail (1845 – 1920) was president of the American Telephone & Telegraph between 1885 and 1889, and again from 1907 to 1919. Vail saw telephone service as a public utility and moved to consolidate telephone networks under the Bell system. In 1913 he oversaw the Kingsbury Commitment which led to a more open system for connection.
The American Bell Telephone Co. had been organized by Gardiner G. Hubbard, father in law of Alexander Graham Bell. As a lawyer and lobbyist Hubbard had opposed the Post Office Department before Congress on various issues. Vail became convinced as a result of his association with Hubbard that the telephone would eventually revolutionize world communication and he became a vigorous though generally unsuccessful promoter of Bell stock.
Hubbard was impressed with Vail and offered him the position of general manager of the American Bell Telephone Company in 1878. Vail defended the Bell patents successfully from challenges from Western Union and others. He introduced the use of copper wire in telephone and telegraph lines.
The Vail Medal was created in 1920 in memory of Mr. Vail to perpetuate his ideals of service to the public. The medal was awarded to individuals for noteworthy acts reflecting the Bell System's highest traditions of loyalty and devotion to duty.
Adolph Alexander Weinman designed the Vail Medal in 1921. In designing the medal, Mr. Weinman captured not only the personality of Vail but also his ideals of service to the public. The face of the medal bears a portrait of Vail, while on the reverse, the central figure represents the ''Civilizing Force of Communication'' speeding the winged message along the wires. At the right is ''Loyalty to Service'' which upholds the left hand of the central figure. A third figure represents “Devotion to Duty.”
This medal is most commonly encountered in bronze. The bronze medals were awarded to individuals in each Bell company by that company's awards committee. A Bell Systems Committee then reviewed these cases and selected those of "especially outstanding excellenceor importance" for silver or gold medal awards. Bronze medals could also be awarded to groups of employees if the noteworthy act was a concerted group action. The depicted bronze medal was awarded to James E. McGriff.
Up to the breakup of the Bell System in 1984 hundreds of awards were made to telephone company employees who embodied the ideal of service. Men and women of the Bell System performed acts of public service and bravery ranging from struggling through a blizzard to fix a downed line; saving a child from a burning building or a man from a raging flood; to staying at the switchboard while bullets flew, and were celebrated with the award of a Vail medal.
Obverse: THEODORE NEWTON VAIL around a robust portrait of Vail at the center, Roman numeral dates for 1845 and 1920 to either side
Reverse: THE VAIL MEDAL FOR NOTEWORTHY PUBLIC SERVICE, the composition depicts three allegorical figures representing Service, Devotion to Duty and Loyalty to Service. The three are holding telephone cables and are speeding the winged message over the wire; below, a cartouche bears the inscription: AWARDED TO JAMES E.McGRIFF (name engraved), designer's intertwined initials AAW in right field
Edge: "1347.1952" and MEDALLIC ART CO.N.Y.
1952, Baxter-184, Marqusee-394
The Weinman connection was partially what drew me to this medal. Of course, he is best known for his work on the Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty half dollar. In addition, it was created by the Medallic Art Company.
I will leave you with an interesting, unattributed, quote about Mr. Vail. ''Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and Theodore Vail invented the telephone business.''