Pittsburgh’s WWI Homecoming Medal

One of the most beautiful and artistic designs for a WWI homecoming medal was used for the Pittsburgh Homecoming Medal. The large gilt medal is fitted with a named eagle brooch by chain links that support a large planchet adorned with the seal of the City of Pittsburgh. This is backed with a drape of gold and black — the colors of Pittsburgh. Based on the large numbers of men who served and the large population of Pittsburgh, there should be a large number of medals in circulation — but there is not.
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A WWI mystery solved

by David L. Burrows

 After the signing of the Armistice, hundreds of Pittsburgh’s sons and daughters returned home to be greeted with parades and celebrations. It has confounded collectors for years, however, that only a handful of WWI Pittsburgh Homecoming Medals could be found. Finally, an explanation has been discovered.

After the signing of the Armistice, hundreds of Pittsburgh’s sons and daughters returned home to be greeted with parades and celebrations. It has confounded collectors for years, however, that only a handful of WWI Pittsburgh Homecoming Medals could be found. Finally, an explanation has been discovered.

One of the most beautiful and artistic designs for a WWI homecoming medal was used for the Pittsburgh Homecoming Medal. The large gilt medal is fitted with a named eagle brooch by chain links that support a large planchet adorned with the seal of the City of Pittsburgh. This is backed with a drape of gold and black — the colors of Pittsburgh. Based on the large numbers of men who served and the large population of Pittsburgh, there should be a large number of medals in circulation — but there is not.

 This WWI Pittsburgh Homecoming Medal made by Heeren Brothers is named to A.J. Kelly — someone who could not be verified as having served during WWI.

This WWI Pittsburgh Homecoming Medal made by Heeren Brothers is named to A.J. Kelly — someone who could not be verified as having served during WWI.

HEEREN BROTHERS

The Western Pennsylvania firm of Heeren Brothers & Company designed and manufactured medal. William F. Heeren, the founder of the company, was born in Germany and started the Company in Pittsburgh in 1867. He and his company were renowned for excellent craftsmanship, especially in making commemorative medals. Examples of the firm’s medals include the Company’s 25th & 50th Anniversary strikes as well as their 1909 Commemorative Medal for the Allegheny Arsenal explosion .

By 1924, the company had become one of the largest jewelry vendors between New York and Chicago. Meanwhile, at the time of America’s entry into WWI, Pittsburgh was the eighth largest city in the United States.

 Heeren Brothers Company had a rich history of making medals. These are examples of its own 25th and 50th Anniversary medals.

Heeren Brothers Company had a rich history of making medals. These are examples of its own 25th and 50th Anniversary medals.

As unrivaled industrial giants ,Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania had major roles in WWI. Many of the soldiers in the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Keystone Division were Pittsburgh men. Men drafted into service from Western Pennsylvania made up the 80th Blue Ridge Division. The 15th Engineer Battalion was raised and trained in Pittsburgh.

 Heeren Brothers second WWI medal design was adopted and issued by the New Castle Herald to veterans of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.

Heeren Brothers second WWI medal design was adopted and issued by the New Castle Herald to veterans of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh soldiers were instrumental in several campaigns including the 2nd Battle of the Marne, the Battle of Soissons, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Since a large number of Pittsburgh soldiers served, there was excitement when the guns ceased firing and soldiers returned home. The people of Pittsburgh planned for a great homecoming celebration, though 508 would not return, and many came home bearing wounds.

This is where the mystery becomes apparent for collectors: There just aren’t that many extant Pittsburgh Homecoming Medal. Based on the large numbers of men who served, and the large population of Pittsburgh, there should be a large number of medals in circulation.

 Heeren Brothers designed and issued the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion Medal as a commemorative medal in 1909.

Heeren Brothers designed and issued the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion Medal as a commemorative medal in 1909.

In spite of a long-time involvement in medallic artistry, Heeren Brothers minted only two WWI homecoming medals. Besides the Pittsburgh Medal, the only other issue was a medal made for Lawrence County, Penn.: A 35mm copper pendant showing a soldier firing a rifle in a kneeling positive. It wasgiven to returning soldiers by the New Castle Herald

But why is it almost impossible for local collectors to find the Pittsburgh WWI Homecoming Medal?

IT WASN’T FOR THE SOLDIERS!

When members of the 18th Infantry Regiment and 15th Engineers arrived at the Liberty Train station, Pittsburgh’s victorious sons marched to the Syria Mosque in Oakland. After eating breakfast at the Mosque and reuniting with their families, they marched along Fifth Avenue to the downtown district and past a reviewing stand three blocks long. It was one of the largest parades ever in Pittsburgh.

 Two local Pittsburgh WWI issued medals were made by Robbins Company, the first for the Zion Evangelical Church (left) and the other for the Pittsburgh Power Piping Company. Both were issued on Allied colored ribbon variants.

Two local Pittsburgh WWI issued medals were made by Robbins Company, the first for the Zion Evangelical Church (left) and the other for the Pittsburgh Power Piping Company. Both were issued on Allied colored ribbon variants.

Did the returning doughboys receive a welcome home medal at the parade’s conclusion?Discerning collectors have finally discovered the answer.

All of the Pittsburgh Homecoming medals were “named.” Through internet searches, it has become apparent thatthe Pittsburgh Homecoming Medals were only issued to politically connected people who were instrumental in planning the Homecoming Parade and festivities! Known examples of the Pittsburgh Homecoming Medalwere issued to a W.J. Patterson (Captain in the Civil War and Commander of the GAR); A.J Kelly, Jr. (City council member and 6th President of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh); Charles C. Kohne (involved in Pittsburgh real estate); and J.F. Moore (veteran of the Spanish American War and school principal in Pittsburgh). The conclusion to the mystery is that the number of medals was restricted to the Homecoming Committee.

 A trio of named WWI Pittsburgh Homecoming Medals provided the clues to the issue. All three of the named individuals were not soldiers who served in France, but rather, they were members of the committee involved in planning the homecoming events for the soldiers!

A trio of named WWI Pittsburgh Homecoming Medals provided the clues to the issue. All three of the named individuals were not soldiers who served in France, but rather, they were members of the committee involved in planning the homecoming events for the soldiers!

There was no official Pittsburgh medal for the returning soldiers — other than those awarded by other local companies or churches to members who had fought in the war. As is often the case, history explains the inconsistencies between the soldiers who served, and those on the home front.

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