Challenge Coin History

Throughout history, the challenge coins have been traditionally used within the military, and typically have a command or organization’s logo or symbol on them. They are often traded and collected by an individual unit’s members or presented as informal awards by higher ranking officials. The challenge coin history is long and diverse. Historically they are given to prove belonging when challenged. They are also occasionally provided as gifts or thank you items for when someone does something for another command.

Challenge Coin History Origins

Challenge coins have a long history of being used by military throughout history. We have evidence that the Roman Empire gave challenge coins to their ranks to recognize their achievements in battle or in performance.

The most recognized story is that challenge coins were started during World War I. The story goes that in a squadron of wealthy officers, one officer ordered medallions to be made so that he could present them to his unit. One pilot under his command placed the medallion in a leather pouch that he had around his neck. On one of the patrols, shortly after he received the challenge coin, his plane was damaged and he was forced to land in the enemy territory and was captured by an enemy unit. The German unit that captured him took all his personal belongings besides his leather pouch which held his challenge coin around his neck. The pilot later escaped the German unit and was later captured by the French.

The French believed him to be a saboteur and decided that the best course of action would be to kill the pilot. Since the pilot had no way of proving his identity, he provided the French his challenge coin. One of the French noticed the squadron logo on the challenge coin and they delayed his execution. The pilot cleared his identity and the pilot received a bottle of wine from the French. This was the start of the challenge coin history.

When the pilot was returned back to his squadron it became tradition that all members carried a challenge coin at all times. They would often challenge each other to see if each carried their challenge coin. They would ask to see the challenge coin, and if the person challenged could not produce a challenge coin, they were required to buy a drink of choice for the person who had challenged them.

United States Presidents

There have been a number of different Presidents who have used challenge coins as gifts or collected them and displayed them. President Bill Clinton would collect and display his challenge coin collection which was provided to him by military service members from the Navy, Marines, Air Force, Army and Coast Guard. President Barack Obama had placed challenge coins on the memorials of fallen soldiers who were killed in the Fort Hood shooting that took place in 2009. Future presidents will likely continue and expand long history of challenge coins.


The tradition of the custom challenge coin challenge is still used as a method of making sure that a person is carrying their commands coin, or that they have a coin on them. The rule of a challenge for a challenge coin is not always set the same way and may vary between units and even unit members. The meaning behind the challenge of a challenge coin is to create morale for the unit, but sometimes can backfire if used inappropriately.

A challenge of a custom challenge coin can take place at any time; it starts with the challenger drawing out their coin and placing the challenge coin on the table or the bar top. Everyone who is in the area of people being challenged should then present or bring out their challenge coin to show that they too have their coin. Anyone failing to provide their coin must then buy a round of drinks for those who do. If everyone provides their challenge coin, then the person who challenges must then buy the round of drinks.

Coin Appearance

Custom challenge coins come in many different sizes and shapes, sometimes small enough to hardly still be considered a coin. These challenge coins can come in bottle opener shapes to be used to open beer bottles. The coins can vary in size and color and are often hand painted and sometimes covered in epoxies to protect the coin from wearing.


Challenge coins can also vary in cost due to the size and colors as well as the type of metals that are being used in order to create the coins. Custom challenge coins have also been produced in limited batches and make their collection value go up. Some people sell their challenge coins online in Facebook groups or on websites which can also increase the costs of the coins. Depending on the types of metals used, challenge coins can become a very affordable gift to produce.

Historical Uses

Challenge coins have been used in the military since World War I, but their use also extends past the military. Many veterans use challenge coins in their personal businesses, and companies have used them as business cards or to give out to employees as awards. Military organizations have also provided coins as gifts to civilian organizations.

Challenge coins have also recently been used to give as gifts to service members from sports teams who support military veterans and service members. Recently the Dallas Mavericks have commissioned their own set of challenge coins which were provided to service members. Team owner Mark Cuban has even been collecting challenge coins and has one of the team’s challenge coins.

Various groups in popular culture have been using custom challenge coins to promote their products and services. Video games made by Activision and Microsoft have commissioned their own custom challenge coins to be provided to their customers with limited editions of their games. Also the hit TV show Breaking Bad produced their own set of challenge coins which were provided to the cast members by the director of the show.

Challenge Coin History

The challenge coin history and challenge coin uses are dynamic. The tradition itself of challenging a fellow coin holder is no longer used in the military service as much as it has been in the past, but the collection of the coins and gift giving is still growing. Challenge coins have been used for many different reasons over the years and continue to be popular. Something is evident when it comes to challenge coins, that they will be around for many years to come and the rich tradition of the custom challenge coin will continue far into the future.

World War I Pilot

Challenge Coin History

President Obama Being Presented a Challenge Coin

Challenge Coin History

Military Services Use Challenge Coins Daily

Challenge Coin History

President Clinton’s Desk Displaying Challenge Coins

Challenge Coin History

Embleholics Challenge Coin

Challenge Coin History

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