Are Challenge Coins Only For The Military?

October 16, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Challenge coins originated in the military and have many traditions surrounding them.
  • Though popular in the military, anyone can get a challenge coin if they want one.
  • Civilian clubs, organizations, sports teams, and businesses all use challenge coins.
  • You can make your own custom challenge coin represent anything that you want.

Challenge coins have been a part of military tradition and culture for a long time now, but are there civilian challenge coins too?

While challenge coins definitely have most of their history and traditions tied to the military, you don’t have to be in the military to get one. In fact, challenge coins have been adopted by a large number of civilian organizations like clubs, sports teams, colleges, and corporations.

It's no secret that challenge coins are primarily associated with the military. Still, even though most of the history and traditions surrounding challenge coins come from the armed forces, these special coins are becoming more and more popular outside of the military too. So are there non-military challenge coins and if so, what are some of the most popular examples?

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Are Challenge Coins Only For The Military?

Even though challenge coin tradition and history are closely tied to the military, challenge coins are not just for service members in the armed forces. In fact, now that anyone can design and create their own challenge coins, they have continued to become more and more popular outside of this military setting.

Still, if you want to understand more about challenge coins and the traditions that come along with them, learning about their military past is essential.

A Brief History Of Military Challenge Coin Tradition

While challenge coins today have a lot of longstanding traditions associated with them, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, the first instance of a challenge coin being given out wasn’t really supposed to be a challenge coin at all.

The first challenge coin dates all the way back to ancient Rome. During the Roman Empire, if a legion performed particularly well in battle, they would receive a separate bonus coin that soldiers could spend on whatever they wanted. However, because these bonus coins were specially minted, many soldiers apparently decided to keep the coins as souvenirs.

World War I

Fast forward all the way to World War I and a wealthy lieutenant in the US Air Force decided to give all the pilots in his newly formed squadron special bronze medallions. One young pilot who kept his medallion or coin in a small leather pouch was able to use his coin with great success after crashing behind enemy lines.

After being captured by a German Patrol, the American pilot was stripped of all his identification, except for the small coin which the germans thought nothing of. The pilot eventually escaped and was met by French soldiers on the other side of no man’s land.

Unfortunately, without ID, he was not able to prove that he was American and soldiers captured him and took him back to a French outpost. However, once he arrived one of the soldiers was able to recognize the insignia on his coin, proving that the pilot was a friend. From then on it became a tradition for military personnel to always carry their challenge coin on them.

World War II

By the second world war, challenge coins were being used to confirm the identities of officers attending secret meetings in nazi held France. The allied powers needed to be able to ensure that their meetings could not be infiltrated.

By doing a coin check and making sure that everyone in attendance has the same coin, they could be sure that there was no german spy at the meeting, as knowing what coin to use to gain entry would require advance knowledge that the germans were very unlikely to have.

Vietnam War

In the Vietnam War, an army infantry run bar may have accidentally started the coin challenge tradition. This simply started out as soldiers trying to keep outsiders out of the bar. Basically, if someone was not able to prove that they had seen combat, they would be forced to buy the whole bar a round of drinks.

While enemy bullets and unexploded grenades were the first choices that soldiers would use as proof, this quickly became way too dangerous as bringing dangerous explosives into a bar is never a good idea. However, because of this, the military challenge coin quickly became the accepted form of proof, leading to the modern-day tradition of challenging coin holders to present their challenge coin.

What Types Of Challenge Coins Are There?

As we now know, there are a lot of other types of challenge coins out there besides the military challenge coin. Nowadays, it's easier than ever for anyone to design their own challenge coin so these special non-military coins have been popping up everywhere including police and fire stations, civilian clubs, sports teams, universities, and many more.

Police, Firefighter, and EMS Challenge Coins

First Responder challenge coins are some of the most popular types of challenge coins outside of the military and for a good reason. Police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers all help serve and protect their communities, and they deserve to be recognized for their service.

A first responder challenge coin will be held with great pride by the person who has received it as it is a mark of the sacrifice that the recipient made for their community, and can be passed down through the generations so that their service will never be forgotten.

Club Challenge Coins

Other than first responder and military coins, private and public clubs, and organizations have started making their own challenge coins as well. One of the main functions of challenge coins is that they prove membership in a group, so club and organization challenge coins give members something common to bond over.

Challenge coins may also be a great reward for someone who has accomplished some special achievements in the club or organization. For instance, in the Boy Scouts, when a member achieves the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts, they are often rewarded with a special Eagle Scout challenge coin as proof of their accomplishment.

Sports Teams Challenge Coins

Sports teams often get specially designed challenge coins too! A sports team challenge coin might just be something that proves you’re a huge fan of the team, however, if a team is lucky enough to be celebrating a national championship-winning season, you can be there will be a special challenge coin to celebrate, and remember the achievement.

University Challenge Coins

As the name implies, university challenge coins usually feature the university’s logo and are often given to current and former students. University challenge coins are particularly popular around graduation when new graduates may receive a special challenge coin to commemorate their graduation.

Corporate Challenge Coins

Again these challenge coins are pretty self-explanatory. They feature a corporation or business’s logo and maybe so other information about the business. These coins differ from other coins because they are often used to increase brand awareness and land new clients, almost like a business card.

Event And Commemorative Challenge Coins

Event and commemorative coins are quite similar in that they are supposed to commemorate special occasions, events, or achievements. A challenge coin like this could be minted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a neighborhood club or perhaps just given out as a souvenir at an annual community cookout. There’s really no limit to what you can use a challenge coin for.

Custom Challenge Coins

Even if you aren’t a member of some special club you can still design and create your own personalized coins. Whether you just want a unique challenge coin for yourself, or you want to share your coin with others, with so many customization options available you can make sure that your own challenge coin is as unique and personal as you want.

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