MADE IN NEVADA: Medallic Art Company

Published: Apr. 25, 2017 at 4:14 PM PDT
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CEO Bill Atalla regards his company as the Ferrari of medal makers. The Dayton workers have created some of the most prestigious medallions including The National Medal of Science, which the President of the United States awards to science and engineers who have made advances in their fields.

The northern Nevada company has also produced Pulitzer Prize medals. It's awarded for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the United States. Recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Ernest Hemingway and University of Nevada Graduate Kristen Go. She played a role in helping The Denver Post win a Pulitzer for its breaking news coverage of the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999.

"It was very bittersweet because this is the highest honor that you can win in journalism, but it was at the cost of many lives," said Go. The last time Medallic Art made a Pulitzer Prize Medal was in the late 1980s.

Medallic Art also makes medals for the Boy Scouts of America.

The company also sells medals to all 50 states and several countries including Australia, Brazil and New Zealand.

The large warehouse where they are created sits on the edge of Dayton and is nestled near the Pine Nut Mountain Range. The workers inside created at least 1.2 million medals in 2015 and 850,000 medals in 2016.

For silver medals the process starts at more than 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. Two workers heat 185 pounds of the metal in crucible until it melts. The batch of molten silver is worth about $50,000. The liquid silver appears transparent, but it's actually reflecting light like a mirror.

The metal is carefully poured into another portable crucible and eventually into a graphite billet mold. Water circulates through the graphite to cool the silver into several large cylinders. Each weighs between 25 to 45 pounds.

They are placed on a dolly and moved to the extruder machine. It's an 800-ton hydraulic press and can heat the metal to just more than 1400 degrees Fahrenheit to shape the billet it into a rod, which is 3/4 of an inch wide and 3/16 of an inch thick.

The single long strip of silver is cut every 12 and 15 feet. The rods are run through two high-pressure rolling mills to ensure an even thickness, and then the metals are punched by a blanking press like mom's Christmas cookies.

The round pieces of silver are called blanks. A conveyor belt gently transports them to bucket and the scraps are collected to be melted again.

From this point, Medallic Art relies on its history. "We have 750 of the most famous artists in the world that we've been involved with over the last 108 years," said Atalla.

Cathy Swinburg is the archivist for the Medallic Art Company. She is proud of the company's rich history reflected in a 1914 medal called "The Joy of Effort". It was crafted by a physician, athlete and sculptor named R. Tait McKenzie. The original image he created was eight times larger and reduced by a special mechanical machine to capture the fine details of the runners musculature jumping over a hurdle.

The coin would have been made on a galvano cast.

"We blend old-world art with new technology," Atalla said.

Some of the old-world technology like a press is used today, though the modern machines are more advanced thanks to electricity, which can be used to power them today.

Medallic Art workers also use a laser machine called ACSYS Lasertech-NIK. It can measure a 3D piece of art to within one micron of accuracy. The art's measurements are used to reproduce the image on the face of a medal with a LANG Impala 400 Inc. machine. The Barracuda machine is used to burn a title into the back of a medals.

The next step is to oxidize the medals in heated water. They come out almost entirely black. Next, they're buffed. The contrast between the light letters, images and dark background creates a clear contrast and image on the medal. And finally, a simple lacquer-coat is sprayed on the medals.

This is the basic process for all the medals created at Medallic Art and chances are you have one sitting in your home. The company often stamps its name on the side of back of the medallions it creates.