The Story Behind the Iconic Military Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are a token of honor for the military. But how did the tradition begin? Click here and discover the fascinating tale of military coins.

Have you ever wondered where custom challenge coins came from?

Did you know that these unusual and treasured items bear a history dating back to Greek military times?

Or that during the Vietnam War, before coins became commonplace, soldiers would challenge each other to drinking games with bullets?

Military coins have been around for many years and can be used for a wide range of events. But why are they so popular? And where should you go to find them?

Well, keep reading if you’d like to learn more!

The History of Challenge Coins

Military challenge coins have a long and storied history.

Military coins have been around for as long as humans have fought wars. Greek and Roman soldiers carried coins with them so that when they passed on they would be able to pay the Ferryman on the River Styx.

As time went on, coins were featured in other great armies. In modern American history, challenge coins started as a reminder of home. Soldiers who fought during the Civil War carried coins that bore some likeness to their home.

The Legend of the Coin

It wasn’t until WWI though that military coins became a true American tradition.

The story goes that during the War a wealthy officer had bronze medallions stamped with his squads’ symbol that he then presented to his men. One of those recipients was captured by German soldiers, escaped and thanks to the coin he carried, was able to return safely to his base.

While this legend may be more of a tall tale than anything, there is no doubt that the coins have become just as legendary in the military.

Vietnam Brought Many Challenges

The coins grew in popularity during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, becoming much more commonplace. But the first coin wasn’t officially presented until the 1960s.

During the Vietnam War, bored servicemen created organizations called bullet clubs. Men began carrying bullets in their pockets. When the men would have downtime, they’d gather in bars and challenge each other to buy rounds of drinks by slamming bullets down.

This sort of challenge was both dangerous and the early start to the traditional challenge most know and love (to hate?) today.

But carrying live ammunition and forcefully throwing it around is dangerous. This is where challenge coins began to gain their official footing. These coins often bore the units’ symbol and the US flag.

Coins are borne with pride by their military owners. And with such a long and storied history, it’s no wonder.

Different Types of Military Challenge Coins

Coins are a big part of military culture.

Many US Presidents carry coins of their own. Starting with Bill Clinton, every President has had a specially designed coin. These coins can commemorate inaugurations or important moments their administrations have achieved.

There are also Presidential coins available for purchase in gift stores, which can be a treat for the public who may collect coins.

Many branches of the military have their own designs. Special Forces coins began after the Vietnam War and have carried on since.

Coins are often presented to men as praise for commendable service. They can be handed over with a secret handshake that only that squad may know. Or they can be handed off without a word and little pomp.

The Challenge

The biggest part of challenge coins is…well the challenge.

Another part of the coin legend dates back to WWII. When soldiers were allowed leave and were able to spend their hard earned money in bars and pubs, they took up a German tradition called “pfennig check.”

The pfennig was the German’s coin of lowest value. Anyone stuck at the end of the night without a pfennig was in charge of picking up the tab.

This tradition has carried on since WWII. Even if the rules have changed a little bit.

The Rules

  1. When every coin is presented, the recipient must be told the rules.
  2. And they must be made aware that the coins should be carried at all time. A challenger may appear at any time.
  3. When a challenge is made, the challenger must be clear on whether or not it’s for a full round of just one drink.
  4. Failure to produce a coin will result in a bought round of drinks (or single drink) depending on what the initial challenge statement may have been.
  5. If everyone presents a coin, the challenger must buy the drinks.
  6. Do not give your coin to another person. If a coin is given away it can be kept. Remember these are tokens that must be treasured.
  7. If coins are lost, they can be replaced at the owner’s discretion.
  8. There is no exception to the rules.
  9. Coins are coins are coins. They can’t be bottle caps, belt buckles or even run of the mill coins.
  10. No holes may be drilled in the coin.

Coins come with many different traditions and rules. And each group will be a bit different in their challenges. Pay attention to the rules and always be ready to throw down when the silver flashes.

Military Coins Today

It’s not difficult to find challenge coins these days. Many organizations use them as rewards for service work or even use them as promotional material.

MilitaryCoinsUSA is a great source for custom coins. They will walk you through the design process and help you decide what kind of challenge coin will work best for your event.

Challenge coins will last a long time and serve as a great reminder of the work you’ve done. And the service you’ve provided. As they’ve grown popular, coins have evolved. Now many businesses offer bottle openers, medals, and custom designed challenge coins.

If you’d like to learn more about some nontraditional business rewards like challenge coins, visit our business section. We have some great advice that may make your next team-building exercise much more fun.

No matter the design, these coins will definitely serve as a great conversation starter with anyone who sees them.

Need More?

Are you looking for more information on some of the non-traditional things society has to offer?

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Please contact us if you have questions or want to learn more.