Cullum Geographical Medal


The Cullum Geographical Medal, created in 1896, was the first major awards presented by AGS and is thus one of its most prestigious. Lydia Field Emmet, the designer of the medal, described the medals imagery, which portrays the medal’s intent. “On the front is the figure of a young man standing in the bow of a boat. He has thrown down his oars upon discovering land. He shades his eyes with his hand as the boat progresses through the waves. A seagull, hovering, indicates the proximity of land. The whole is supposed to represent enterprise and the spirit of exploration. Inscribed on the face of the medal is: ‘The American Geographical Society of New York.'” Describing the back, she says, “The reverse, to typify achievement and award, bears a female figure – Columbia, the left hand resting on a globe and the right holding out a laurel wreath. Beneath the right arm is the tablet to bear the record of the achievement for which the award is made. On the side is the inscription, ‘The Cullum Geographical Medal.'”


The first recipient of the award was Robert E. Peary, in 1896. Working with the U.S. Navy, he led many explorations of the Arctic Ocean, eventually becoming the first person to reach the geographic North Pole in 1909. He is also a signer of AGS’s Fliers’ and Explorers’ Globe.