The first American to orbit the Earth was John Herschel Glenn, Jr. On Feb. 20, 1962, he orbited the Earth three times in the Friendship 7 spacecraft. The vessel, part of the Mercury-Atlas 6 program, reached 162 miles above Earth and orbited at around 17,500 mph.
The mission was launched from what was then Cape Canaveral in Florida and lasted four hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds. After a somewhat harrowing trip, Friendship 7 finally splashed down near Grand Turk Island.
Glenn was presented with NASA's Distinguished Service Medal by President John F. Kennedy and honored with a parade through Washington, D.C.