Have you ever seen someone do something so spectacular that it completely changes the way things are done from that point forward? When that happens, you may hear people say that a person “broke the mold.” What does that mean?

In manufacturing, many things are made with molds. Molds are often metal shells that are filled with materials that then cool into a particular form or shape. Molds are used so that products can be made in the exact same way over and over again.

When someone breaks the mold, we recognize that they have done something differently than it has ever been done before. We often talk about athletes breaking the mold when they set new world records that people thought would never be broken.

You may hear the phrase “break the mold” often at the Olympics. During each Olympic Games, new world records are often set by athletes that train and then perform in ways that no one has ever seen before. When they do this, they break the mold and earn gold, silver and bronze medals for their efforts.

Of course, those medals they win? Those are made with molds. Kind of ironic, right? Have you ever WONDERed exactly what goes into those molds to produce those shiny Olympic medals?

The very first Olympians won wreaths of olive leaves for their victories. Modern-day Olympians, however, win medals. The first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 awarded silver medals to first place (because silver was more valuable than gold at the time) and copper medals to second place.

Today, Olympic winners get gold medals, while second- and third-place finishers get silver and bronze medals, respectively. But are those medals solid metal? Is a gold medal 100% gold? Not quite…

The design, size and composition of Olympic medals vary between Olympic Games. The organizing committee of the host nation makes the final decisions with some loose guidelines to follow.

For example, all Olympic medals must be at least three millimeters thick and at least 60 millimeters in diameter. You might be surprised to learn, though, that both gold and silver medals are made of 92.5% silver (the rest is usually copper). Gold medals, however, must also be plated with at least six grams of gold. Bronze medals are made with bronze, which is a combination of copper and another metal, such as tin or zinc.

So what is a gold medal worth? The gold medals awarded at the 2012 Olympic Games in London were the heaviest yet, weighing about 400 grams each. Their estimated value was over $600 each, with about half of that value coming from the six grams of gold and the other half coming from the sterling silver in the medal.

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    • You did a great job describing the Wonder video, Tanyalee! Those images did make us feel like we were reliving a part of history! Thanks for sharing your comment today! We Wonder if you have ever broken the mold, Tanyalee? :)

  1. Wow! I did not know that the gold medal was not all gold. We could not believe that in the 1800s silver was worth more than gold. We can’t wait to see what is next. Some of us are thinking that the question is What causes severe storms?

    • Hello to all our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Coleman’s class! We are so happy that we’ve all learned something new together today. We enjoyed learning about what it means to figuratively “break the mold” and then we learned about molds for medals! What an awesome day! We are glad you shared your stormy Wonder guess, too!

      Check out our rainy Wonder in the meantime: Wonder #522– How Much Rain Can a Cloud Hold? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-much-rain-can-a-cloud-hold/ :)

  2. Thoughts: I liked how the medal show pictures that were made in the past. (Michelle) I liked how the video gave us information about how the medal was awarded. (Leslie) I love the detail used to create the medal. (Duyen)
    Does platinum cost more than gold? (Kerry)

    Connections: This reminds me of when one of my ancestors won an Olympic medal. (Gabrielle) This reminds me of when my grandpa earned a purple heart in WWII. (Maria)
    The last three videos we’ve watched have had a narrator sharing the story (kinda quickly). (Jaaron) My great, great grandpa died in WWII. (Carlos)

    Predictions: What is precipitation? (Briahna) How do storms form? (Maria) How do meteorologist predict the weather? (Andrew) How do storms work? (Kathy)

    • We appreciate all the awesome comments from our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Hess’ Class today! Michelle, Leslie, Duyen and Kerry did a super job of summarizing what you learned about medals today!

      We enjoyed reading the ways that Gabrielle, Maria, Jaaron and Carlos related to today’s Wonder, too. Thanks for sharing your own personal connections!

      Great use of context clues, Briahna, Maria, Andrew and Kathy! We’ve got an entire category full of weather Wonders for you to enjoy in the meantime… http://wonderopolis.org/category/weather/ :-)

  3. We think today’s wonder was awesome.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about rainbows, tornadoes, and hurricanes, or day or night.

  4. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We learned that the gold medal is not 100% gold. We also googled Olympic medals to look at some of the different designs. We thought it was interesting that silver medals used to be given out for 1st place. 12 people in our class plan on winning gold medals. We are still wondering if bronze was ever used for first place. We are also wondering if medals increase in value. We think tomorrow’s wonder may be about spring, tornadoes or rainbows.

  5. Thanks for sharing this great idiom this morning. It was also fun to learn something new about how Olympic Medals are made. FYI, I am sharing Wonderopolis this evening with lots of families during the Scottish Corners Elementary School Family Literacy Night. It should be an excellent time. Hopefully you will be getting lots of new visitors in the next few weeks.

  6. I liked today’s wonder because I think it’s cool that Olympic Medals have a little bit of mold and I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about weather.

    • Isn’t it cool to learn all about the Olympic medals and how they’re different for each Olympic year, Alexa? We love your guess for tomorrow’s stormy Wonder! We can’t wait to find out what it will be! :)

  7. I think today’s wonder of the day was cool because I liked learning about how Olympic medals are made. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about weather.

  8. I think today’s wonder was really cool. I had no idea so many things were made with molds and I think tommorow’s wonder of the day has somthing to do with weather.

  9. I respect the man in that video. Well I learned that only 92% of the metal is gold, the rest is bronze. Thank you wonderopolis. I hope you have a great day and I think tomorrow’s wonder is deadly. :Y

    • Hey there, Wonder Friends Maddy and Jayden! We’re so glad you both enjoyed our Wonder today! It’s cool to learn about what it means to “break a mold” in figurative language, and then we learned all about the actual molds that are the first step to creating Olympic medals! WOW!

      We look forward to WONDERing with you again– thanks for sharing your guesses! :)

  10. Hi wonderoppolis!!!!!

    I loved today’s wonder of the day and I thought it was really interesting that they have to have certain measurement of the medals. I was WONDERING if you could do a wonder about atoms and how if you cut an atom in half it can create an atomic bomb.
    I think tommorow’s wonder will be about the weather.

    Your friend from Canada
    Eiffie

  11. HI!
    I liked today’s wonder I thought that gold medals were 100% of what they are like gold and silver. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about being rainy and then sunny or something. Can you make a wonder about Karate please?

    • Mason and Brady, thanks for joining us today! We hope you both have the opportunity to break the mold or win a medal! We believe in you! We look forward to WONDERing with you tomorrow- you have great guesses! Thanks for sharing your comments! YOU ROCK! :)

    • Hey Alicia and Brendan! Thanks for sharing your comments today! We think it’s awesome that you’ve been WONDERing all about molds (and how to break them, too)! Thank you for sharing what you learned! Alicia, it’s so cool that you researched the value of the 2012 Olympic medal! WAY TO GO! :)

  12. Hi wonderopolis, I never knew that the medals were made partly of mold. I wish that I could get a medal. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about weather.

    • Hey Wonder Friends Max and Noah, thanks for sharing your comments about breaking the mold! We learned about one type of mold, which is how the Olympic medals are formed. Mold can mean something else, such as a type of fungus. However, this time we’re talking about the mold that helps shape something, like an ice cube tray forms ice cubes! :)

      We Wonder how you have broken the mold, Max? It sounds like you must have done something totally WONDERful! :-)

      Noah, we bet you will get a medal for something awesome! What do you enjoy doing? Are you into sports, do you like to draw, or perhaps you are an amazing volunteer?! Medals and awards come in all shapes and sizes and for many reasons! :)

  13. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Today’s wonder was awesome. I never knew it’s called mold. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about weather.
    Thanks Wonderopolis!!!

    Your Friend,
    Ben

    • We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us today, Ben and Jusin! It sounds like you’ve both been WONDERing about all types of mold today!

      Ben, thank you for sharing your awesome Wonder guess about weather! We can’t wait for tomorrow!
      Jusin, we are sorry to hear about the mold on your trees! Today we learned about another type of mold– one that helps form something– but we just learned about another type of fungus a few Wonders ago! Wonder #870– What is a Toadstool? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-a-toadstool/ :)

  14. I thought today’s wonder was really interesting! I always wondered what Olympic medals were made out of, because I thought that they surely wouldn’t be made out of real gold or real silver or real bronze. I think that I have won a medal before, in soccer when I was little, but particapated in punt, pass and kick and got a trophy. Thank you for today’s wonder!

    • Hey Berkleigh, thanks for WONDERing with us today! We are happy to hear about the awards you have won for soccer and football! WAY TO GO! We always appreciate your awesome connections to the Wonder of the Day®! Have a terrific Thursday, Berkleigh! :)

  15. Hi wonderopolis!

    We enjoyed reading the article and watching the video. After the article and the video, we still wondered what the actual number of people or groups have been awarded the Congressional gold medal.

    Great wondering here in 3rd grade!
    Cheers!

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends in Mr. Carrico’s 3rd grade! Thank you for visiting us today to join us as we Wonder about breaking the mold! :)

      It’s awesome to hear that you’ve continued to ask questions after finishing today’s Wonder… we bet you’ll enjoy visiting the official Congressional Medal of Honor Society site where you can see the names of all who have been awarded: http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-archive.php. We’d love to hear how many have received this award when you finish counting! :)

  16. This was great, I’m going to make one of those gold medals tomorrow in science I really feel like this helped me to do what I’m supposed to.

    • Thanks for visiting us today, BDeezy, Kyle and Maddie! It’s so great to know you’ve all been WONDERing with us today! We did some more WONDERing and research to learn that it takes about 10 hours to make each medal. WOWZA! We hope this Wonder made you smile today! We look forward to seeing you again soon! :)

  17. I was surprised that they would use copper sheets to make those medals. And it was outstanding how they could show how to bake and make your own cookies that are shaped like medals.

  18. Hi wonderopolis
    I never knew that gold medals were not 100% gold. Did you know that in the 2012 olympics the girls USA team in soccer got a gold medal? Do you know how many medals someone has ever won?

    • We’re glad you’re here today, Wonder Friends Josh, ClassicalCow, and Maddie! It sounds like each of you learned something new about molds today– you’ve even continued to Wonder beyond what you learned! NICE WORK!

      The BBC News reported that it can take about 10 hours to make each medal for the Olympics! WOW! We learned all about what goes into the medal-making process, and what makes up each medal! We hope you’ll do some more research of your own about the most medals won at the Olympics! Keep up the great work! :)

  19. Hey Wonderopolis! Today’s wonder was really interesting!! I never knew what breaking the mold means but now I do! That video reminded me of Native Americans! That must of been a long time ago! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about a type of storm! The medals were worth $600 WOW!
    :) :) :)

  20. Hello Wonderopolis.
    I predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about storm chasers.
    I never knew metals were molded.
    An ice tray is like a molder.
    I never knew Olympic medals were worth $600.

  21. Dear Wonderopolis. The WONDER of the day was awesome. I learned a lot from the text, like gold medals aren’t solid GOLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think tomorrow’s WONDER of the day is going to be about tornadoes.

    • Great job today, Emily, Chrisy and Epic Scene! We’re so glad you shared your comments about breaking the mold today! It’s cool that each of you shared a connection you made, too; from another Wonder you saw to molding trays to what makes up a medal! Thanks for sharing your guesses about the weather, too! We look forward to WONDERing with you again! :)

  22. HI wonderopolis, did you know the DETROIT RED WING’S had the best home winning streak last year? It was 22 games. They broke the mold.

  23. Hi wonderopolis I learned a lot today almost all the wonders are awesome and I really like today’s wonder I think it’s really nice. I never knew that Olympians’ medals where made from a mold.

  24. dear Wonderopolis

    I had never herd of the saying break the mold before.

    Something else I thought of when I read the article was when I read the part that said $600 each I thought I would really like to have one of those.

    Something else I learned was that that medals are made from 92.5% silver and I think that is really cool.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder is going to be about weather.

    FROM PANDALOVER

    • Way to go, Hockey Fan, Jewles and Pandalover! We love your comments today!
      Hockey Fan, thanks for giving us a great example of a team that really did break the mold! Go Red Wings!
      Jewles, we’re happy to hear about what you learned today– those medals are awesome!
      Pandalover, thanks for summarizing your favorite parts of today’s Wonder!

      Have a totally WONDERful day, Wonder Friends! :)

  25. Hi Wonderopolis I learned a lot today!

    I did not know the there was a certain measurement of a Olympic medals !I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about storm chasers.

    • Hey Holly, Kayne and Zoe, thanks for WONDERing with us and sharing your comments! We’re so lucky to have awesome Wonder Friends like you! Another great example of a mold is an ice tray! We’re glad you told us about the difference between molds (some are types of fungi, others help shape metal), and we learned about precision, too! Great work! :)

  26. Hi wonderopolis!

    It was cool leaning about the molds. Why do they have to be 3mm thick and 60mm in diameter? How many medals do they make and give out in a year? Tomorrow’s wonder could be about when a tornado is made.

  27. Hello, Wonderopolis!!!

    I liked the wonder today. I did not know medals where made from molds! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about hurricanes, like hurricane Sandy. I am wondering, what is stuffing (like in stuffed animals) made of?!?!?!?!

  28. Hey WONDERopolis today’s wonder felt like it was the army because of their clothes. I LOVE YOUR WONDERS!!!!!!

    Your wonder friend Ms. Barrett!

    • Thanks for visiting us to Wonder today, Sockmonkey, Ponylover and Ms. Barrett! We’re glad you have questions of your own… here are some cool facts that relate to today’s Wonder:

      -There were 4,700 medals made for the 2012 Olympics!
      -Each Olympic medal has certain specifications so they are all consistent when presented!
      -Medals can be awarded for many reasons, like we learned in today’s Wonder video. From athletic ability to defending the country, medals are a way to award those for their determination! :)

  29. Hey wonderopolis I am not sure about getting an olive branch for winning at an Olympic sport. I would like a gold medal instead.

  30. Hi! I loved today’s wonder!! I think molds are like ice-cube-trays. I learned gold medals are not really 100% gold and there value is about $600! I think tomorrow’s wonder is about rainbows.

  31. Hi wonderopolis ,

    I like today’s wonder, I have some gold at home. I wish I could break the mold. I would be popular & that is what I like!!!!

    Love,
    Sophia

    • Hey Spencer, Olivia and Sophia! We like that you are comparing the former awards (olive branches) to the medals we know today, Spencer! We think we prefer medals to wear, too! :)

      Oliva, it’s cool that you made the connection between different molds– ice trays are a great example! We look forward to WONDERing with you tomorrow!

      We bet you’ll be able to break the mold some day, Sophia! We believe in you! Breaking the mold often means you’re doing what’s right or rare, when some may take the easier way out. :)

  32. Dear wonderopolis I think it is WONDERful that you made it so we can learn about medal and soldiers at the same time also uniting the soldiers we have now and the soldiers we have in the video! I did not know that Olympic winners don’t get solid gold medals. I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be the weather.

    • It’s been so fun to Wonder with you today, Gabrriel, Merebear and Marf! We think you’ve done a great job of making your own connections to today’s Wonder! Gabrriel, we enjoyed how you told us about what you learned– those medals are only partially made of gold!
      Merebear, thanks for referring to those who served our country in the past and those who serve today!
      Marf, we look forward to WONDERing about the weather with you, thanks for sharing your guess!
      :)

  33. The wonder made us think about what medals are made of and how much they’re worth.
    -J, F, A

    The wonder made me understand that Olympic Medals are shaped in molds. The wonder helped me understand that molds are used for many other things.
    -M, A, G

    The wonder helped me understand that modern Olympic Medals are not made completely of gold.
    -N, D, J

    I can use the information from today’s wonder in my own life to answer questions about molds or medals. I can explain that the plastic or metal materials sit in molds and make a certain shape. I can also explain how the soldiers that fought for our country should never be forgotten and that they were awarded medals for a reason.
    -N, A, S

    I felt interested about how gold got here & who put it out there for us to find. Did they know we would find it and make it valuable? Is it valuable to them or nothing to them?
    -R, J, Y

    • Mr. Daniels’ Period 3 is doing a great job of WONDERing today– you ROCK! We really enjoyed that you thought about the uses for gold today, how it’s made, and where it came from, too! We think it’s cool that you’ve been using context clues to build new Wonders to discover! We look forward to WONDERing with you again soon, Wonder Friends! :)

  34. The response to this emotional wonder is sad because soldiers died with honor in war & broke the mold for their accomplishment. They earned medals of gold to represent their honor.
    -E, A

    Today’s wonders made me picture in my mind mold in a kitchen or on bread. In the video I pictured soldiers & thought that they were going to use mold for something, but I was wrong. In the passage I pictured molds for making medals & people wearing them.
    -J

    All of this helped me understand that military people don’t just fight in the war & should be honored for their courage. Words people say can mean so many different things like “break the mold” can mean to beat a record.
    – C, M

    Today’s wonder can connect to what I already know by us knowing what Olympic Medals mean to people & wondering what the symbols on the congressional medal mean.
    -J, R

    It can change the way people feel about the war because they fought for honor.
    -G, I

    That the man on the coin had fight for his country. And his soldiers had fought for honor and so they put symbols of torches on the medal to represent what they gave lives for their country.
    -J, J

    • Thank you so much for focusing your comment on honor, Mr. Daniels’ Period 4 class! It’s so impressive that you have processed the Wonder today and shared what you learned today. We think it’s important to remember that medals are a symbol of excellence, hard work and determination, no matter what type of award it is! :)

    • Great guess, Wonder Friend Calvin! You did a WONDERful job of using context clues to form your guess! We can’t wait to Wonder with you tomorrow! :)

  35. A gold medal means that you have earned what you received. A gold medal means so much to me. The people who got one had to have: determination, very good athletic skills, and a good attitude! The people should be very proud if they earn a gold medal! It also means they made their country proud! Go Atleats!

    • WOW, you did a SUPER job of sharing your thoughts about today’s Wonder! We couldn’t agree more– a medal represents so much! Thanks for sharing how important a good attitude is when it comes to achieving your goals! YOU ROCK! :)

  36. Today’s wonder made me picture a purple heart in my mind because soldiers were left behind like mold but then saved by injured comrades.
    -J, A, E, A

    The most important ideas in today’s wonder are breaking the mold and how to break the mold. Breaking the mold is doing something extraordinary like setting a record.
    – A, D, E

    We are surprised because we didn’t know that the medal represented WWII. Also it was impressive to see the image on the medal that was formed with the mold. We were amazed by the beautiful gold medal. It was astonishing to learn about the mold & what they used to make it.
    -B, A, B, S

    I can use the information from today’s wonder in my everyday life by being different and a better person with good character.
    -J, M, L, B, D

    • Dear Wonder Friends in Mr. Daniels’ Period 5, you have hit the nail right on the head with your comments today! NICE WORK! Thanks for expressing what you have gained from our Wonder today, and all the connections you made, too. These comments remind us of the hard work it takes to go from a bunch of metal to a medal of honor– it’s a process full of hard work! We think you’ve done a stellar job today! Thanks for visiting us! :)

    • Well thank you for telling us all about why you loved this Wonder, Reece! We’re glad we could share some cool photos with you and help you learn about all the different types of medals around! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  37. I GUESS I’m #83 today. I liked the DID YOU KNOW. Of course I always love reading. The video collapsed on me and the rest of the class. I learned no medal is 100% gold. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about the weather or the water cycle. Evan

    • Welcome to WONDERing, Evan! We’re glad you’re here today! We’re sorry to hear that you and your Wonder classmates had trouble viewing the video in school… that’s not what we like to hear! However, it sounds like you were able to continue WONDERing and you learned a new thing or two about medals and what they’re made of! Nice work! We look forward to WONDERing with you again! :)

  38. Hey Wonderopolis!:) What is mold made out of? Is it made out of medal? Who invinted it? Did the soldiers invent it? My mom has some coins from back then and she has some mold! :D

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Crystal! Molds can be made of lots of materials… plastic, metal, it all depends. The mold you use to make ice cubes is usually plastic so the ice doesn’t stick to the container! We bet it is really cool that you and your mom can Wonder about the different coins she has! What an adventure! :)

    • Hey there, Mrs. Goneau! Thanks for sharing your comment with us! We learned all about what it means to break the mold- or do something different- in our Wonder today! Check out the video and text… there are some great examples of what it means to break the mold! :)

    • Great question, Crystal! The medal we are referring to is the one you might wear around your neck after you win a race. That medal is made from a mold, or a form, like an ice cube is made from an ice cube tray.

      Some molds are made of plastic, rubber, and metal (this metal we are talking about is similar to the material used for a shopping cart). :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you break the mold?
  • What are Olympic medals made of?
  • Have you ever broken the mold?

Wonder Gallery

872Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Break the mold today by inviting a few friends or family members to check out one or more of the following activities:

  • Follow the directions in this video to make them a unique gold medal! You can keep it for yourself or give it to a friend or family member who has done something special for you. Has someone been super nice to you or broken the mold to go above and beyond what you expected of them? Give them a homemade medal to show your appreciation!
  • What molds have you broken in your lifetime? Is there something that you’re great at? What talents do you have? Whether you’re athletic, artistic, intelligent, compassionate or whatever adjective you want to use, all of us have unique qualities that make us special. Think of some of the things that set you apart from others. Now think of some of your closest friends and family members. What makes them special? Make a list of their best qualities and spend some time telling each of them how important they are to you.
  • Want to do some more digging to find out more about How Olympic Medals Are Made? Just watch the video and learn more about the science of mining for the raw materials and how they’re turned into Olympic gold…and silver…and bronze!

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to check out the Role Model Medal lesson, which encourages children to recognize a woman role model in their lives by creating a special symbolic pin.

Wonder What’s Next?

It’s going to be stormy and sunny in Wonderopolis tomorrow!

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