At the Central States show last month I picked up a copy of the August 2015 issue of The Cincinnati Numismatist. My eyes were
drawn to an article about the Vail Medal (named for AT&T President Theodore N. Vail), which we'd discussed in The E-Sylum
earlier. Editor Dave Heinrich kindly sent me the text and images for publication. Here's an excerpt. Thanks! -Editor
Shades of Walking Liberty Graced With Truth and Heroism
By Ted Lierl
Pictured in this article is a Vail Medal for Noteworthy Public Service that was awarded to Truth H. Jensen for her efforts to save lives
threatened by fire in 1955.
The reverse contains the monogram of its designer Adolf Alexander Weinman, more widely known to numismatists for his beautiful coins,
the Walking Liberty Half Dollar and the Mercury Dime.
Weinman, one of the leading sculptors in the United States, 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 pictured Vail Medal was struck in bronze by the Medallic Art Company of New York and is 63millimeters (about 2.5 inches) in
diameter. It is marked “1425-1955” on the edge.
Bronze medals were awarded to individuals in each Bell System company, by that company's awards committee. A bronze medal was
sometimes awarded to groups of employees where the noteworthy act was due to the concerted action of the group, rather than by an
A bronze plaque commemorating the act was presented to the company concerned. These plaques were designed for display in telephone
buildings as a permanent and public memorial. Plaques may be seen to this day in telephone company buildings across the nation.
Up to the breakup of the Bell System in 1984, hundreds of Vail Medal awards were made to telephone company employees for acts of public
service and bravery ranging from struggling through a blizzard to fixing 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.
The blue leather Vail Medal presentation box for Truth Jensen's Medal contained a brochure that detailed the history of the Vail Medal
for Noteworthy Public Service as follows:
“The Vail Medal, established in 1920 under the terms of the Theodore N. Vail Memorial Fund, is awarded for acts of noteworthy public
service which reflect the Bell System's highest traditions of loyalty and devotion to duty.”
The face of the Medal bears the likeness of Mr. Vail, President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company from 1907 to 1919, in
whose memory the award was established. Struck in gold, silver, or bronze, the Medal symbolizes and perpetuates his ideals of service to
The dominant central figure on the reverse of the medal represents the “Civilizing Force of Communication” speeding the winged message
along the wires. At the right, “Loyalty to Service” upholds the left hand of the central figure, while a third figure, “Devotion to Duty”,
helps support the lines of communication at the left of the group. “
Upon email contact, the seller provided the following additional background information:
“Truth was my great aunt. She was a telephone operator here in Portland, Oregon from the late 40's to the mid 60's. From what
my Mom can remember Truth stayed calm receiving calls from a major apartment fire, thought quick, gave sound advice and was credited with
All in all, this particular medal has great eye appeal, a gifted designer, and a heart-warming story of an everyday hero.
Editor's note; Ted Lierl passed away on July 6th 2015. Ted always brought fun with him when he came to our meetings, his joy of
collecting overflowed into others around him. Ted had a talent for writing and was a good man, I can't emphasize those last three words
enough, a good man!
This article is reprinted in memory of Ted. It was originally published in the May 2009 issue of The Cincinnati Numismatist. It is
one of three articles that Ted wrote for our newsletter.
I started my career at AT&T Bell Labs, but was not aware of the Vail medal at that time. And I've never seen one of the plaques, but
then I haven't been into any local switching offices. Has anyone seen one of the plaques? Anyone have a picture of one? -Editor
For more information on the Cincinnati Numismatic Association, see:
CINCINNATI NUMISMATIC ASSOCIATION (https://cincycoinclub.org/)
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
1925 THEODORE N. VAIL MEMORIAL MEDAL (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n25a10.html)
THEODORE N. VAIL NATIONAL AWARD MEDALS
Wayne Homren, Editor
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