History of the Dog Tag

Posted by Scott Anderson on Mar 7th 2018

What are dog tags? In short "dog tags" is an informal term that is used for identification tags worn by military personnel around the world. The tag's contain personal information about the soldiers and have medical information, such as blood type stamped onto them. It is also common for some countries to put the soldiers religious preference onto the tag as well.

Now let's get to the fun stuff. Where did the dog tag come from? There are some different stories regarding the origin of the dog tag, and we will cover out favorite ones here. For the first historical reference, we have to go back to the time of the Romans.

The Roman Empire during the height of their power had one of the most dominant military forces in the history of the world. The bedrock of their military might was the Roman legionnaire, which was their foot soldier. When a Roman legionnaire enrolled(or at times was forced) into the military, they were given a "signaculum," which was a type of dog tag. The "signaculum" was a lead disk with a leather string, worn around the neck, with the name of the soldier and the indication of which legion(their version of the unit, brigade, etc.) the soldier was a member of.

Fast forward to the American Civil War, and we start to see the use of dog tag like identification systems. During the civil war, some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats, while other soldiers stenciled their identification on their sacks. Some entrepreneurial Americans took note of this and began to manufacture ID badges and advertise them in the newspapers of the day. These id badges were usually pins and were shaped to represent the branch of service and had the soldiers name and unit. The US government did not get into dog tag game until the First World War.

The U.S. Army first authorized identification tags in War Department General Order No. 204 dated December 20, 1906, which primarily prescribes the Kennedy id tag. These tags were made of aluminum and were close to the size of a silver half dollar. The tag had the name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the soldier.

The army changed regulations on July 6th, 1916 so that all soldiers were issued two tags. The reason for this was to identify bodies when soldiers were killed on the battlefield. One tag would stay with the body and the other to go to the person in charge of the burial for record-keeping purposes. Then in 1918, the army added serial numbers to their dog tags to increase the efficiency of their record keeping system.

The tags that we see today were pressed into use during World War II. However, there was one small difference. They had a notch at the bottom of the tag, which some people believe was there so that the tag could be placed in between a fallen soldiers teeth to identify the body, but this has turned out to be merely a myth. The notch was specific to the manufacturing process and the Model 70 Addressograph hand identification imprinting machine, which debossed the tags. This was done away with after the Vietnam war and replaced with the dog tag that you currently see our soldiers where. The embossed text military dog tag.

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