Robert J Collier, publisher of Colliers Weekly magazine, was a sports-pilot and president of the Aero Club of America. He commissioned the 525-pound trophy in 1911, originally named the Aero Club of America Trophy. After presenting it several times, Collier died in 1918 after the end of World War I.
It was renamed in his honor in 1922 when the Aero Club dissolved, and the award was taken over by the National Aeronautic Association. The name became official in 1944, and the award presented once a year by the President of the United States, with the trophy on permanent display at NASM.
One famous recipient of the trophy was Chuck Yeager, who piloted the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier. According to his biography, Yeager used the trophy in his garage to store nuts and bolts.