With the 2012 Olympics getting set to kick off in London, we thought it appropriate to share some fascinating artifacts from the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) here in Washington, D.C. The NHHC Curator Branch maintains a large collection of materials from Captain Carl T. Osburn, USN, who held the record for most Olympic medals by an American competitor – a record that stood for 48 years.
Then-Lieutenant Osburn traveled to Stockholm in 1912 as a member of the twelve man U.S. Olympic Rifle Team. He was one of three Navy members of the almost entirely military shooting squad. The team enjoyed great success at the games, winning thirteen medals. Osburn won four medals in both team and individual competition: a gold, two silver, and a bronze. At right is an image of the bronze he won for the 600 meter free rifle, individual match. At those 1912 games, Osburn began a streak of dominance that continued at the 1920 (Antwerp) and 1924 (Paris) games, a streak which saw him win a total of 11 medals. This total was the most ever recorded for an American competitor. The record would stand until 1972, when it was broken by Mark Spitz.
The medals and other artifacts were held for many years in our Naval Historical Foundation collection. Osburn, who was a 1907 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, retired from the Navy in 1939. He passed away in 1966 while living in California. His widow, Mary, donated a significant collection of his medals, trophies, statutes, and papers to the Naval Historical Foundation in 1967. In 2000, we donated the medals and trophies from the collection to NHHC Curator Branch. Many other paper documents such as score cards, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and even his passport were donated to the NHHC Photo Section and Archives. According to the head of the NHHC Curator Branch, Karen France, “Delving into the history of the Olympic Games and in particular into the participation of the Navy and the other armed services in years past, was fascinating. It was a particular pleasure to bring this Olympic Champion some of the recognition he justly deserves.”
The NHHC collection of Osburn Olympic artifacts is extensive. They hold medals from all three of his appearances in the Games, such as an intricate 1924 silver medal, shown below. They also have uniform patches, a 100 year old commemorative wreath., and an extensive collection of documents. Please visit the NHHC website to learn more about Captain Osburn’s career and experiences in the Olympics. Additionally, NHHC has a page devoted to Naval Olympians who have participated in the games over the past 100 years.