Army Challenge Coin History: Where Did Army Coins Come From?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 41 million Americans have served in the U.S. military since 1775. The Army, established on June 14, 1775, is the largest and longest-running branch of the country’s military.

For over a century, soldiers have carried challenge coins. These historical coins are of special significance to Army veterans and active-duty Army soldiers alike.

So, what are the details of Army challenge coin history? Even the U.S. Department of Defense seems unclear about military coin origins. In 2017, the DOD posted an article called “The Challenge Coin Tradition: Do You Know How It Started?” on its website, which has been archived. 

But it would appear you can trace Army military coin traditions back to World War I. At Embleholics, we’ve dug into the past to discover where challenge coins originated and their place in the US Army. 

What Is an Army Challenge Coin?

Before we dive into Army challenge coin history, let’s ensure you know what Army challenge coins are. Even though they’ve been around a long time, not everyone is familiar with Army coin heritage.

Army challenge coins are designed to celebrate a person’s time in the Army. They contain images, words, and emblems symbolizing the service of a specific soldier. They are often emblazened with unit logos, mission names, or the name and rank of a soldier. They’re regularly given out by commanding officers for soldiers who’ve achieved something above and beyond the call of their normal duties.

Custom airborne army challenge coin by Embleholics showcasing army challenge coin history

Many types of Army challenge coins are available today, including:

  • Army Airborne Challenge Coins
  • Army Ranger Challenge Coins
  • Army Special Forces Challenge Coins
  • Army Infantry Challenge Coins

You can also customize any challenge coins to make them unique.

What Is the Story Behind Army Challenge Coin History?

The origin story is murky. However, all indications are that Army challenge coins initially appeared during World War I.

Legend has it that the first Army challenge coins surfaced in the mid-to-late-1910s courtesy of an Army lieutenant overseeing a squadron of volunteers. He reportedly created solid bronze medallions displaying his squadron’s emblem to build morale. It boosted morale and may have also saved the life of one of the squadron’s soldiers.

This soldier wasin a plane that sustained serious damage from ground fire. He had no choice but to land the plane behind enemy lines, and when he did, German soldiers quickly captured him.

The soldier escaped German captivity a short time later and fled to a French outpost where he thought he would be safe. But French soldiers suspected he may be a saboteur and sentenced him to death. It wasn’t until he showed them his Army challenge coin that they believed he was an American soldier and not a threat.

The soldier eventually made it back to his squadron and told his fellow soldiers what happened. As the story goes, they all vowed to begin carrying their Army challenge coins at all times from then on.

This also helps explain some of the challenge coin rules, the challenge and response.

How Are Army Challenge Coins Used Today?

As noted in the Army challenge coin history above, soldiers primarily used these coins to identify themselves. As a result of challenge coin evolution, they are now at the center of a lighthearted game many soldiers like to play.

The game goes like this:

  1. An Army soldier approaches a fellow soldier and asks to see their challenge coin.
  2. The other Army soldier either shows their challenge coin or reveals they don’t have their challenge coin.
  3. The second Army soldier buys the first soldier a drink if they can’t produce their challenge coin.

Order Custom Army Challenge Coins Here

Army challenge coins have a storied history, and are as meaningful today as they were 100 years ago. Embleholics is a veteran-owned and operated company.

Embleholics can help you create custom Army challenge coins and other military challenge coins.

Contact us at 888-657-2511 to place an order or to discover more about Army challenge coin history.