A Brief History of the Challenge Coin

challenge coin

Have you ever heard of a challenge coin?

Outside of the military, most people have not. However, these important coins are something you should be aware of, as they’re meant to honor someone who has shown great valor.

A challenge coin is a small coin, medallion, or token of some sort that helps to signify membership in an organization. They’re used most often by the military and armed forces.

Challenge coins can help to boost morale by recognizing special achievements.

But where did this tradition originate? How far back can we trace the bestowing of challenge coins upon notable and deserving recipients?

In this article, we’ll cover the history of the challenge coin and shed some light on this notable and inspiring tradition. The next time you encounter a challenge coin, you’ll be able to understand its roots and long-standing importance.

Early Origins

Some stories claim that the challenge coin dates all the way back to the Roman Empire.

Supposedly, Romans presented notable soldiers with special coins as a reward for whatever they had achieved. Maybe they showed special bravery in battle or pulled off a heroic feat. Their action could be recognized with an honorary medal.

During the Renaissance period, challenge coins began to be used to commemorate special events. This could include a royal engagement or some other noble event in the life of important people.

Challenge coins could be given as a gift or an award and were even exchanged among friends.

World War I

The more common thought is that challenge coins originated during World War I.

The story goes that a high ranking and wealthy military official had special bronze medallions created to give to his men. He had the squadron’s symbol etched into the challenge coin and presented these tokens to his entire unit as a symbol of unity and strength.

Soon after receiving the medallion, one member of the troop got struck down by enemy fire.

The Germans took all of his possessions except the challenge coin, which was hidden in a leather pouch strung around his neck. The coin would later serve as a form of identity for him, which ended up saving his life.

Soldiers began to carry their coins on them at all times from that point on. It’s no wonder why. The coin seemed to be not only a symbol of brotherhood, but also a talisman or a lucky charm of sorts.

At that point, the importance of the coin took root. It became an almost sacred symbol of bravery and perseverance. It was a huge honor to receive such a coin, an item that represented such special importance.

World War II and Beyond

Still another story claims that challenge coins date back not to World War I, but later in time, to World War II.

This story claims that challenge coins were given to military members deployed in France during the time of the Nazi regime. They were used to help verify a person’s identity.

The coin could be of a certain type, or it might contain specific information like a date. This system helped to prevent important meetings from spy infiltration.

It would be much harder to send in a spy if they needed to first secure a custom made coin made to specific standards.

This helps to explain why they’re called challenge coins.

The question to see a person’s identifying coin came in the form of a challenge or test of their identity. Having a coin helped prove faithfulness and verified that a person was who he claimed to be.

It is also possible that challenge coins were not introduced until after the Vietnam War.

Whatever the case, a man named Colonel Green embraced the concept in the 1960s. He had a special coin created with his unit’s crest and motto.

It’s believed that this was the only unit actively using challenge coins until the 1980s. In the 80s, incorporating a signifying coin became more widely practiced.

Challenge Coins Today

Though the origin of these special coins is unclear and there is no definite agreement about when exactly they originated, they have become a popular symbol in the military today.

Notable members of the military who are deserving of special honors can be rewarded with a challenge coin to represent what they have earned by their actions.

All branches of the military now have some sort of variation on this tradition. Even non-military organizations like the United States Congress have participated in the tradition.

Today, challenge coins might be awarded to members when they join exclusive organizations, or they might be sold to mark special events or fundraisers.

In some branches of the military, these coins are gifted to new soldiers once they successfully complete basic training or become officers.

Today, these coins come in all kinds of designs and colors. Usually, though, they’re made of bronze and contain etchings or engravings of symbols, insignias, or other identifiers that place someone as part of a specific group.

Looking to Buy a Custom Challenge Coin?

If you’re looking to design or purchase a challenge coin, you’ve come to the right place.

We create custom coins to honor the finest men and women in our nation. Whether you’re looking for challenge coins, military coins, honor coins, or other kinds of medals and awards, we’ve got you covered.

We have all kinds of options for your coins. You can choose details like an epoxy coating over your design, a keychain attachment, glow in the dark enamel, diamond-cut edges, two-tone metal, and more.

If you design a coin with us, we’re happy to provide free art and revisions, free shipping anywhere in the United States, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You can include up to five colors per coin.

Contact us today for a free quote on your project or idea. You can order online for a quick and easy design and ordering experience.