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National Archives documents on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

The design drawings for the Medal of Freedom in the temporary case at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History

The design drawings for the Medal of Freedom in the temporary case at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History

Some of our documents made a special trip across Constitution Avenue today, traveling from the National Archives Building to our neighbor on the Mall, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Tonight, the museum is hosting a dinner for this year’s sixteen recipients of the nation’s highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Over the past fifty years, the award has been given to 500 people.┬áPresident Kennedy re-established the Medal of Freedom as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, eighteen years after it was first established by President Truman.

Although President Kennedy was killed just two weeks before the planned award ceremony, President Johnson went forward with the first award ceremony. Marian Anderson was among the first 31 recipients. He also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to President Kennedy.

You can watch tonight’s ceremony live online.

Karen Hibbitt, registrar at the National Archives, and conservator Lauren Varga accompanied the documents and prepared the display, and they will remain there during the event to ensure the safety of the documents.

Registrar Karen Hibbitt arranges the documents for the display case.

Registrar Karen Hibbitt arranges the documents for the display case.

The featured documents are Executive Order 11085 and a set of design drawings. On February 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 11085, establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Institute of Heraldry, U.S. Army, then created design drawings for the medal for President and Mrs. Kennedy to review. The featured document (above)on display is from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

The White House loaned a Medal of Freedom to the display as well. In the final design of the medal, the white star symbolizes the defense of freedom, and the eagles symbolize the supporting strengths and convictions of America’s early struggle for freedom. The white stars on the blue background of the ribbon allude to the states themselves, and the colors of blue, white, gold and silver are associated with the President’s seal and flag.

Lauren Varga adjusts a Medal of Freedom on loan from the White House.

Lauren Varga adjusts a Medal of Freedom on loan from the White House.

You can read more about the history of the Medal of Freedom on the National Museum of American History’s blog O Say Can You See.

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