Artifact Spotlight: U.S. Navy Good Conduct Medal, 1893

---Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

 Good Conduct Medal, 1893
On April 26, 1869 the Navy Good Conduct Medal was authorized by the United States.  The medal is the United States’ third-oldest continuously presented award and the second-oldest medal distributed by the Navy.

The Navy Good Conduct Medal has seen several transformations over the years. The first medal issued between 1870 and 1880, was a Maltese cross inscribed with the motto, “Fidelity, Zeal, and Obedience.”  The cross was suspended from a red, white, and blue ribbon and was awarded to a sailor each time he was discharged with good conduct. An accumulation of medals could earn a bonus, eligibility for the rank of petty officer, and a pension.

The second variation of the medal was issued from 1880 to 1884. The new medal, also attached to a red, white and blue ribbon, was a round medallion featuring an image of the USS Constitution over an anchor. The reverse received the motto “Fidelity, Zeal, and Obedience” as well as the seaman’s name.

The third incarnation of the Navy Good Conduct medal, shown on the left, is very similar to the type two medal but has an all red ribbon. Issued since 1884, the new medal contained the continuous service number of the sailor to prevent theft. Additionally, the medal was now only issued once. The Navy added bars with the name of the recipient's ship or duty station at the time of the award.  These bars were eventually replaced with the bronze and silver stars still used today. The type four medal issued since the mid-1950s changed the rectangular suspension bar to a more modern ring and no longer included detailed information on the reverse.

The Navy Good Conduct Medal pictured was issued to Chief Boatswain’s Mate Thomas Larsen in 1893 after serving on board USS Essex. The bars for subsequent awards show Larsen's tours on USS Constellation (permanently moored at Newport since 1894) and assignment to the Newport Naval Training Station.

Medal is a gift of John and Gloria Little                                   Ac. No. 2010.08.26

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum


  1. What is the difference between a military ribbon and a military medal of the same type?
    For example, there is a Good Conduct Ribbon and also a Good good conduct medal Conduct Medal. If a soldier is given a Good Conduct Ribbon as an award, does it also give him a Good Conduct Medal as a decoration?

  2. Generally medals and ribbons are for the same award. The ribbon only (on a bar)is the same material and color configuration as the ribbon that supports the actual medal. The medal is generally worn with full dress uniforms, while the ribbon only is worn with service dress. Miniature medals are also worn for formal or dinner dress uniforms. More can be found in the Navy Uniform Regulations. Please see the link below.


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