Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Hannah. Hannah Wonders, “Why do people get trophies and medals?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Hannah!
Given the longstanding tradition of the Olympic Games, athletes must have always been awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals, right? Or have various host countries been allowed to award different prizes in lieu of medals?
The Olympic Games certainly do have a long and storied history. The very first Olympic Games were held in ancient Greece way back in 776 B.C. If you won an event in those first games, you wouldn't find a medal hanging around your neck, though. Instead, the victors received olive wreaths made from branches of the wild olive trees that grew at Olympia.
Olympic medals didn't make their debut until the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. But they weren't the gold, silver, and bronze medals were familiar with today. Instead, victors received a silver medal and an olive branch. Second place finishers received a bronze or copper medal and a laurel branch. All other participants received a commemorative medal.
Things changed at the next Summer Games in 1900 in Paris. Instead of medals, winners received cups, trophies, or works of art. It was not until the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, that gold, silver, and bronze medals became the standard awards for first, second, and third place.
Although we might dream of having an Olympic medal placed around our neck, the earliest medals were attached to ribbons with a pin for attaching them to an athlete's chest. It was not until the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome that medals were designed to be worn around the neck.
In addition to the medals awarded to the winners of events, all Olympic participants receive participation medals and certificates. While these prizes make great souvenirs, most athletes have a gold medal as their primary goal.
All that glitters isn't gold, though…at least not solid gold. Both silver and gold medals today are made of about 92.5% silver with the rest being mostly copper. Gold medals are plated with about six grams of gold. Bronze medals usually consist of a mixture of copper, tin, and zinc.