Updated: Apr 12
Personalized challenge coins are quite common amongst military organizations in almost all countries around the world. Members of the Armed Forces, Law Enforcement, and firefighters, etc. have a custom of carrying these coins around, keeping them on their person whenever they need. As something that symbolizes brotherhood, unity, and identity, these coins bear markings, symbols, and mottos from their relevant organizations, which makes them even more valuable. However, this tradition of carrying and using such coins isn’t something new. Challenge coins play a massive part in history, as we will see below!
History of the Challenge Coins
While challenge coins became more common during WWI, the truth is that the use of such coins — that depict individuals, their status, and association — has been prevalent for centuries. In fact, during the time of the Roman Empire, soldiers were presented with such coins, each depicting their achievements. During the Renaissance time, these coins were mostly called Portrait Medals, and were used to honor specific individuals and events and gifted amongst friends and family.
The Use of Challenge Coins in Modern History
The myth around the use and popularity of challenge coins is that a rich Ivy League lieutenant gave these coins to all the members of his squadron in the Army Air Corps.The story has it that one of his pilots was shot down, forcing him to land in German territory, which was hostile at the time.Subsequently, he was captured and sent to a detention facility, where he was stripped of all his belongings. But then, that center was attacked by British forces. During this attack, the pilot escaped.
However, at some point again, he was captured by French soldiers who detained him, presuming that he was a German, since he didn’t have anything that could corroborate the truth about his identity. They sentenced him to death, and were about to execute him, when the soldier thought to present his challenge coin, which he’d hidden in a leather pouch around his neck that had gone unnoticed by the German soldiers. Seeing his coin stamped with his identifying marks and his American Unit’s insignia, the French realized that he was an ally, and immediately postponed the execution. The pilot was later released once they validated his identity. This is when people realized just how useful and powerful a challenge coin could be.
Challenge Coins Today
Proper challenge coins — those issued by the government and military institutions — started being presented to troops during the 1960s, first amongst members of the 11th Special Forces Group, then the 10th Special Forces Group, after which the tradition took off.
What’s the ‘Challenge’ in Challenge Coins?
The challenge stems from a tradition that started when an Army Infantry-run bar asked patrons to prove that they’d been in combat. If they couldn’t prove it, they’d have to buy drinks for the whole bar. In response to this request, many started bringing their coins to the bar, and that became the accepted proof.
Buying and Gifting Challenge Coins
For all those looking to buy challenge coins, you’ve come to the right place!Challenge Coins 4 U is a veteran-run small business that offers high-quality challenge coins to customers online. If you want to gift someone a challenge coin, contact us and tell us about the design.Or choose from our selection!However you want your challenge coin to be, we’ll try our best to exceed your expectations!