The history of aeronautics has been the result of the foresight, courage and determination of individuals. Over the centuries, man has aspired to fly. The first successful advance toward controlled conquest of the air was in 1903 when the Wright brothers made their epochal flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. By 1927, a growing number of pioneers had become outstanding in promoting the art, a war has been fought in which the new mechanisms had had their baptism in fire, a new branch of engineering and the corresponding engineering sciences had been established.
The time had come when these pioneers merited special recognition. A group of prominent aeronautical engineers had plans for an organization which would recognize those persons who made notable achievements in the advancement of aeronautics. Daniel Guggenheim, interested by his son, Harry, who had been a naval aviator in World War I, had given $3,000,000 for the promotion of aviation, through the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. After negotiations with this organization, by permission, and by incorporation, the engineers assumed the name, The Daniel Guggenheim Medal Fund, Inc. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) were selected as sponsor societies whose members were active in the aeronautical field.
These two societies accepted sponsorship of the new award and nominated suitable persons from their memberships to become members of the Medal Board which later included all Medalists in the United States as life members, thereby adding to the distinguished character of the Award. Provisions were made early for inclusion of members from foreign countries, confirming the international feature of the Fund. By 1935, procedure was initiated to broaden the membership of the Board. In 1936, the certificate of incorporation was changed to increase the number of members. By invitation, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) became a sponsoring Society. In 2003, the American Helicopter Society (AHS) was invited to become a sponsoring Society.
In March 1928, Harry F. Guggenheim, President of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, presented to the Medal Fund, $15,000, “the income from which is to be used for the purpose of awarding, from time to time, medals to be known as ‘The Daniel Guggenheim Medal,’ in recognition of notable achievements in the advancement of aeronautics, in accordance with the provisions of the by-laws of that corporation.”
The Daniel Guggenheim Medal was created as an international award for the purpose of honoring suitable persons, and it is also a commemoration of the support given by Daniel Guggenheim to the advancement of aeronautics through donations for the support of schools of aeronautics and for the encouragement of civil aviation. While it has been impossible in the short life of the Medal Board to include every aeronautical pioneer worthy of recognition in the list of Medalists, this list spans the entire history of practical aviation development. The Medal, very properly, is regarded by many as the greatest honor that can be presented for a lifetime of work in the aeronautical field.
The Daniel Guggenheim Medal Fund, incorporated in the State of New York under the Membership Corporation Law in October 1927, held its first and organization meeting in February 1928 in the office of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, Inc. Dr. W.F. Durand was chosen as Temporary Chairman under whom elections were held, and Elmer A. Sperry was elected the first president.
Cumbersome corporation procedure and financial problems created an undue burden on the members of the Board. In 1938, President T.P. Wright formally proposed dissolution of the Corporation and authorization of the delivery of all assets to United Engineering Trustees, Inc., which had kept all books of accounts and investments for the Medal Fund from its inception. This dissolution was legally consummated in October 1938, and the present name was assumed—The Daniel Guggenheim Medal Board of Award. The sole function of the Board is the selection of a Medalist each year. Activities of the Board are governed by Rules of Award which are revised as necessary to meet current conditions.
In 1942, with World War II holding public attention, and with several of the international members in enemy countries where they were out of communication with the Board, it was decided that no international members should be included for the duration of the war. In 1951, the Board resumed election of international members, selecting a representative from England. The year following, Canada was included. In 1954, provisions were made for representation from other countries also.
Due to dissolution of the United Engineering Trustees, Inc., administration of the Daniel Guggenheim Medal Board of Award was transferred to AIAA in 1999.
Today, the Medal is awarded for notable achievement which shall tend to the advancement of aeronautics. There is no restriction on account of nationality or sex. The Medal is accompanied by a certificate, which shall recite the origin of the Medal and the specific achievement for which the Award is made. The list of Daniel Guggenheim Medalists indicates the international character of the Award as was the wish of Mr. Guggenheim.