In my Numismatic Diary last week I mentioned Benjamin Rush and the founding of the U.S. Postal Service. Harry Waterson kindly submitted this article on another public figure
prominent in the history of the USPS. Thanks! -Editor
Theodore N. Vail Medal for Noteworthy Public Service
The portrait of Theodore Vail on the obverse shows the telephone pioneer in his prime. He was president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company from 1907 until his
retirement in 1919. He died in 1920 at the age of 74. He had a long and honored career. His guiding principle, that customer service was more important than increasing dividends,
was the foundation of AT&T. There is this famous quote that sums up Theodore Vail. "Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Theodore Vail invented the telephone
This medal was designed by Adolf Weinman in 1921. Weinman designed the Walking Liberty Half and the Liberty Dime. The Vail Memorial Medal was awarded to employees for
noteworthy acts reflecting the Bell Telephone System's highest traditions of loyalty and devotion to duty. Gold, silver and bronzes medals struck by Medallic Art Co. were
awarded in the hundreds from 1921 to 1984 when the Bell System was broken up.
The central figure on the reverse 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 to support the lines of communication. Wearable gold charms for
women and lapel pins for men were awarded.
The above entry was part of a presentation I did for the Ozarks' Coin Club in June.
My godmother worked for Bell Labs in lower Manhattan and she wore a tiny gold charm of the obverse of the above medal. She never explained it. That forced me to be aware of Mr.
Vail. In light of your interest last week in the USPS I thought I would add this to that thread from Wikipedia and Telcomhistory.org
In the Spring of 1869, Theodore Vail was appointed clerk of the railway mail service between Omaha and Ogden. His success in getting the mail through during the snow blockage
of 1870, came to the attention of upper management.
He was promoted to the Chicago and Iowa City railway post office, an important distribution point at the time. When the railway post office was established on The Union
Pacific, Vail was promoted to head clerk.
In March, 1873, Vail was assigned to duty in the office of the General Superintendent of Railway Mail Service, Washington, D.C. There he exercised special oversight of
distribution of the mails, and justified to Congress the compensation the railways received for carrying the mail. In June, 1874, he was appointed Assistant Superintendent of
Railway Mail Service. In 1875, he became Assistant General Superintendent.
In February, 1876, Vail was appointed General Superintendent after his boss retired. He had reached the highest grade attainable in this branch of the Federal government. He
was the youngest officer in the Railway Mail Service, both in years and terms of service. When this final appointment was made by the Postmaster General, the latter said that his
only objection to Vail was his youth.
As General Superintendent, Vail helped put postal employees under the general civil service laws. He established the system of six months' probationary appointments, which
were subsequently adopted by all agencies.
This was the judgment of his peers: He went to work for the U.S. Postal Railway System as a mail clerk. From the very beginning on this job, he began to develop the mail
delivery system used to this day by the U. S. Postal System. His system allowed mail to be delivered up to two weeks earlier than was done before. He initiated schematic
distribution in the West, and within 6 years expanded the system to include the vast network of rails throughout the country.
Perhaps the finest tribute to Vail was that his success was met with almost no resentment or jealousy, but rather an outpouring of sincere warmth and congratulations from peers
and coworkers. They felt "he faithfully earned the laurels won, and hoped to hear of his continued recognition, believing he belonged further up the scale."
And, then, he went to the phone company. .
Very interesting! I didn't know that about Vail. Amazing. I started my career at Bell Labs in New Jersey, a few years before the AT&T breakup. I knew nothing of Vail
then, but numismatics has filled in the gaps in my knowledge. Thanks again. -Editor
To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
1925 THEODORE N. VAIL MEMORIAL MEDAL (https://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n25a10.html)
WAYNE'S 2019 ANA DIARY: PART II : Rush's Thunder Clappers
THE BOOK BAZARRE
RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE
: Wizard Coin Supply is the official distributor for Roger Burdette's three volume series that won NLG Book of the Year awards for 2006,
2007 and 2008. Contact us for dealer or distributor pricing at www.WizardCoinSupply.com
Wayne Homren, Editor
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