The Navy Cross was established by an act of Congress (Public Law 253) on 4 February 1919 "to any person who, while in the naval service of the United States, since the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and seventeen, has distinguished, or who shall hereafter distinguish, himself by extraordinary heroism or distinguished service in the line of his profession, such heroism or service not being sufficient to justify the award of a medal of honor or a distinguished service medal." On 7 August 1942, Congress limited the Navy Cross to combat-only recognition and elevated its status to just below the Medal of Honor.
The Navy's Division of Pictorial Publicity was responsible for the original design of the medal, and asked sculptor and Commission of Fine Arts member Herbert Adams to manage the process. Adams reached out to fellow commission members James Earle Fraser and Paul Manship. Manship and Fraser had previously been chosen to design the Navy's Medal of Honor, but Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels rejected their design for appearing too European.
Fraser is credited as the primary designer of the Distinguished Service Cross, as the Navy Cross was originally called. (Fraser was also the designer of the World War I Victory Medal and the obverse of the Buffalo nickel.), Subtle variations have marked the evolution of the Navy Cross from 1919 to the present. The original medal was a three-part construction: the cross itself and the front and back medallions, which were struck separately and subsequently soldered together. Since World War II, however, the medal has been struck in one piece.
Doris Miller's Navy Cross Citation
Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual (Rev. 1953), Pt. 1 - Personal Decorations
Awards and Decorations (blbliography)