What is a Challenge Coin? And How it all Began

What is a Challenge Coin

What is a Challenge Coin? And How it all Began

Did you know those non-monetary incentives are as effective as monetary incentives when it comes to employee motivation?

For a long time, challenge coins have been a popular way of motivating teams and developing a sense of camaraderie.

This tradition is deeply rooted in the military and there is a long history to it. Today, challenge coins are commonplace in workplaces, corporate events and even in sporting.

So “What is a challenge coin?” you might ask. In this article, we shall discuss what these coins are and the history behind their existence.

What Is a Challenge Coin?

These are coin-sized medallions given to soldiers in recognition of their achievements.

Each unit in the military has its own unique coins.

Each new member receives a coin. Soldiers who perform exemplarily well during battle are also appreciated using unique coins. There are also other coins presented to soldiers as they rise in rank.

In the military, the more challenge coins you have the more respect you garner. The main idea behind challenge coins was to instill a sense of unity and pride as well as acknowledge valiant effort and excellence.

The History Behind Challenge Coins

Though challenge coins can be traced back to the US military, there are contradicting theories as to when and why they were actually first used.

The Most Common Theory

This theory takes us back to the First World War.

Many people volunteered as the US was building its first Army Air Service. Among the volunteers was a wealthy lieutenant. He ordered several coin-sized bronze medallions to be made as he wanted to give the members of his unit a memento.

He put a small leather strap in his medallion to wear around his neck. During service, he was fortunate enough to survive when his plane was shot down over Germany.

He was captured by a German patrol unit who took all of his identifiable items. They did this so that he had no way to identify himself if he escaped. The only thing they left on him was his pouch with the medallion in it.

Later on, he was taken to a small town near the front lines of the war. He managed to find civilian clothes and escape.

He stumbled into a French outpost where he was presumed to be an enemy because they were wary of people not in uniform and did recognize his accent.

The French soldier wanted to execute him because they also couldn’t ID him.

The lieutenant remembered he still had his pouch around his neck and showed them the soldiers his unit’s insignia. Luckily for him one of the French soldiers recognized it and he was spared.

As an apology for almost executing him, the French soldiers gave him a bottle of wine. He was then able to get back to his unit and since then it became a tradition that for all soldiers to carry a unit-coin at all times just in case.

Second Theory

There also those who have another version of how challenge coins came to be.

In this theory, the tradition started in Vietnam. An infantry-run bar tried to keep non-infantry men away by forcing them to buy drinks for the whole bar if they had no proof they had been in combat.

Initially, infantry men used bullets to prove their combat experience. It then got a little out of hand with grenades and other unexploded materials.

Later on, the accepted item of proof became a medallion with the insignia of the unit. That’s when the coin check tradition began and which still continues today with the coins referred to as challenge coins.

What’s the Challenge Behind Challenge Coins?

Though the introduction of challenge coins is unclear as they were first used in an unofficial capacity, there is some clarity as to when they truly became challenge coins.

As soldiers collected artifacts of war during the Vietnam war, they would place them on the bar and see who had the biggest memento and best story. The perceived loser would buy a round for all the parties involved in the challenge.

To avoid losing, soldiers started coming with dangerous explosives. This attracted the attention of the administration which opted to introduce the challenge coins to avert disaster.

The tradition of the challenge still goes on. Any soldier can initiate it by holding their coin in the air, placing it on the table.

Those being challenged have to draw their coins in a similar manner. If anyone does not respond correctly, they have to buy a round for the entire group. If everyone produces their coin, it is then up to the challenger to buy drinks.

How Are Challenge Coins Used Today

They are still a very big part of military culture. Service men pride themselves in the coins they collect for valor and rank. However, challenge coins have also been adopted in other fields for various reasons. The following are some of them.

To Recognize the Efforts of First Responders

Firefighters and law enforcement agencies have adopted the use of challenge coins to honor special accomplishments in the line of duty.

Government agencies and politicians have also not been left behind. They use challenge coins to create a sense of honor and unity at a time of tragedy by recognizing the efforts of first responders. Even citizens can be awarded.

Branding

These days, institutions leverage the respect people have on challenge coins to promote their brand. Instead of just issuing business cards, companies are giving out branded challenge coins during conferences, trade shows, and sales events.

Sports teams and schools have not been left behind either. During sports and local community events, mascot and logo branded coins are handed out.

Awarding and Creating a Sense of Unity

Personnel and team members who discharge their duties exemplarily well are awarded coins. This boosts their morale to continue working hard as well as challenge the rest of the team to work as hard.

Institutions have also begun issuing different teams with unique coins to help create a sense of unity and belonging. This then improves teamwork and cohesiveness.

Leverage the Power of the Coin

What is a challenge coin really? Well, what began as a simple gesture among servicemen is now one of the best tools for instilling espirit de corps that extends well beyond the military.

Organizations can now leverage this power to create cohesive teams and grow their brand.

Metal Promotional Products has one of the most creative custom coin building teams in the country. Click this link to get a free quote on all our promotional products.

Coins for the Brave: A Background of the Prestigious Firefighter Challenge Coin

A Background of the Prestigious Firefighter Challenge Coin

Firefighter challenge coins are reserved for a special kind of brave – learn everything you need to about earning one of these prestigious coins, here.

There’s an old saying that goes “All men are created equal, then a few become firemen”. It hails firemen as a cut above the average man because of his bravery and skill in the face of a blaze.

A census from 2015 reported that there were about 1,160,450 local firefighters in the United States. Each one of these people is part of a force tasked with protecting us like the military or police forces.

One of the ways firefighters are being honored is by the use of a firefighter challenge coin. Each coin has a special design and with an event or specific honor in mind. Then firefighters who show dedication above and beyond the call of their duty receive a coin.

But what is a challenge coin? Where did they come from? What do these coins stand for? And how do people earn them?

Find the answers to all these questions and more in our ultimate guide to the challenge coins for firefighters. Keep reading to learn the history of these honorable emblems, and what they look like.

What Is a Challenge Coin and What Is Their History?

A challenge coin is a small metal disk a bit larger than the United States currency coins, engraved with beautiful designs of special significance.

There is no definitive answer for when the first use of the challenge coin concept came about. Many people suggest that the first appearance was during World War I when soldiers earned challenge coins for outstanding bravery.

Soldiers would use these coins as a way to have healthy competitions with each other. Someone might yell “coin check” or slam a challenge coin down on the table and if any of the people in that unit do not have their challenge coin, that person then buys all the others a round of drinks. Some soldiers would challenge each other using the coins as betting tokens. 

Soldiers with the most challenge coins meant they were more prestigious and noteworthy than others. Losing your challenge coin was an embarrassment and merited ridicule.

Because many people became firefighters after leaving the military, the tradition of giving and trading challenge coins came into the private sector along with them. 

Most challenge coins are larger than any coins that we use in the United States for money, but still small enough to fit in your palm. They are often made with thick bronze, silver, or other metal and engraved on both sides.

Another common look for challenge coins is to have one or both sides feature designs made in colored enamel.

Common Firefighter Challenge Coin Designs

Challenge coins given to firefighters tend to have a few different symbols, each signifying something different.

The most common designs engraved onto firefighter coins are:

  • Saint Florian – Who is the patron saint of firefighters, chimney sweeps, soap makers etc.
  • Star of Life – Representing the 6 main tasks a rescuer takes on in the line of duty
    • Detection of danger
    • Reporting
    • Rapid response
    • On the scene care
    • Care in transit to the hospital
    • Transfer to definitive care specialized for the patient
  • The Maltese Cross – The standard logo of firefighters around the world. It also acts as a badge of honor and a symbol of protection
  • Fire Chief Engraved coin – One of the highest honors to a fireman given to those who show great leadership skills
  • The Firefighter Helmet – A historic design that dates back to the early 1900s when firefighter helmets were leather and metal. Now, this classic design is an international symbol for firefighters
  • Fire Chief Nickel Coin – A coin reserved only for fire chiefs and often made with antique nickel

Other challenge coins feature the firefighters’ prayer or other prayers, either on one or both sides, to wear when in uniform as a symbol of protection from harm.

How Do You Get a Challenge Coin?

There are a few different ways to collect challenge coins for firefighters. For the most part, you will need to be a firefighter to receive a challenge coin, but some are available for buys to buy as well.

By far, the easiest way to get one of these firefighter coins is to buy it. Many firemen sell them online on sites like eBay or you could attend a firehouse expo where coins are almost always for sale.

But, if you want to get a challenge coin the traditional way, you will need to face some serious danger.

Some fire departments will give all their firemen a special challenge coin to carry with them to protect them from the flames.

Often, firefighters will receive challenge coins for doing something extraordinary or showing particular excellence.

Another common event where firefighters get challenge coins is when tragedy strikes and some members of the team lose their lives. Memorial challenge coins have special images or quotes engraved on them that represent the event and are then given to the remaining members of the team.

Other firehouse related events can also merit distribution of challenge coins. Fire department anniversaries, community parades, and the opening of new firehouses are only a few special events where you might find coins.

One thing is certain, if you earned a challenge coin the hard way, it will serve as a badge of honor for you and your family for many years to come.

Where Can Your Fire Department Get Coins Made?

The honor and significance attached to a firefighter challenge coin are very important to firefighters and their families as well as other members of the community. It is imperative that the coin’s design and handling have the highest level of care and respect.

We take great pride in our wide variety of custom challenge coins for all branches of the military and private sector forces. We boast a 100% satisfaction and lowest price guarantee for our coins because we know we are the best at what we do!

Let us help you make your next set of challenge coins something special. If you have an idea for a challenge coin that you would like to make into a reality or if you have any other questions about challenge coins, contact us today!

How to Practice Proper Military Challenge Coin Etiquette

As of 2016, there were about 20.4 million American veterans. The amount of veterans in the United States is sure to rise, and with that comes an increase in military challenge coins.

The challenge coin’s history originates in the armed forces–they’re meant to boost morale in the military. In fact, military challenge coins are often given out as a reward or as a representation of a certain organization. The coins often have military logos printed on them and sometimes show the number of years the recipient served.

You don’t have to have a relation to the military in order to use challenge coins, but you have to learn the rules. There’s a certain etiquette you should abide by when using the challenge coins. Whether you’re giving someone a coin or initiating a coin check, keep some of these challenge coin rules in mind.

What Exactly Is a Coin Check?

You should know what the coin challenge game is before you actually play it. Traditionally, when a service member or veteran initiates a coin check, they’re trying to connect with other veterans and military members.

A person can yell or call out that they’re starting a coin check. They also have the option to loudly slam their coin on a hard surface like a table or on the floor, so listen carefully.

Be careful not to accidentally drop your coin on the floor–you’ll automatically start a coin check. This is a punishment for not taking good care of your coin.

Everyone who owns a coin has to show it during coin checks. Make sure you always carry your coin with you, as coin checks can happen at any time.

Military Challenge Coin Etiquette

Challenge coins are honorable symbols that deserve to be taken care of. If you’re an owner of challenge coins, remember these rules for the next time you hit the bar or hang out with your buddies.

Always Explain the Rules

The game’s rules should always be explained to anyone who has been given a coin. It’s unfair to initiate a coin check when you haven’t explained the rules beforehand.

Stay Close to Your Coin

Try to keep your coin somewhere on your person. If you’re seen without your coin during a check, you’ll be responsible for buying drinks. You won’t be able to redeem yourself that night either, as you can’t be challenged more than once.

Not only is it important to carry your coin at all times, it’s also important not to put it down far from your seat. You’ll lose the game if you have to take more than four steps to get to your coin.

Challenge With Caution

If you’re thinking about starting a challenge the next time you’re at the bar with your friends, you should know that there could be some consequences. When everyone who’s challenged pulls out a coin, you’ll be paying for all of their drinks.

Don’t Hand Over Coins

Putting your coin in someone else’s hand during a challenge means that you’re giving it to them. Instead, showcase the coin on a table, hold it in the palm of your hand, or hold it up. Anyone who wants to take a closer look at the coin is obligated to bring it back to its spot.

Don’t Lose Your Coin

You’ll need to immediately replace your coin if you happen to lose it. Keep in mind that you aren’t exempt from the game even if you lost your coin. That means you’ll be paying for a ton of drinks.

Challenge Coins Aren’t Jewelry

You shouldn’t wear your coin like a bracelet or belt buckle. Definitely, don’t drill a hole in it to make a necklace. If you want to carry it around your neck, you can put it in a pouch that doubles as a necklace.

Try to keep your coin as clean as possible. Dirty coins are a sign of disrespect.

Challenges Can Happen Anywhere at Any Time

Don’t be blindsided by the next coin check. Always remember to take your coin with you before leaving the house because checks can happen at any place and time.

No Exceptions

Sorry, but there aren’t any exceptions to these rules. Whether you’re naked or clothed, you better be able to show your coin.

When to Give Someone a Challenge Coin

Maybe you want to honor someone for a good deed or for their hard work. There’s no better way than rewarding them with a challenge coin. Even if you’re not a veteran or a member of the armed forces, you can still use custom challenge coins.

Challenge coins are used among firefighters, police, businesses and even members of fraternal organizations. Some people even decide to use them as business cards–they’re much more memorable and less likely to be thrown out. Challenge coins are also frequently sold to raise money for a cause.

You can use challenge coins to reward employees after the completion of a special project or if a huge accomplishment has been made. The coin can be a representation of the achievement. When an employee or member is recognized for a job well done, they’ll be more satisfied with their job or organization.

How to Give Someone a Challenge Coin

Once you find the right moment to award someone a challenge coin, you have to make sure that you properly hand it to the recipient. Transferring the coin shouldn’t be dramatic or obvious.

Many veterans and soldiers had their coin handed to them during a handshake. A commander holds the coin in their hand until they get to shake hands with the soldier. The coin is then silently passed on to the soldier while they shake hands.

Get Custom Challenge Coins

Military challenge coins are a unique and memorable way to acknowledge someone for hard work or to advertise a business. There’s no better way to represent your business, employee, or organization than by creating a custom design on challenge coins.

We specialize in creating high-quality challenge coins that are customized to fit your needs. If you’re interested in custom challenge coins, contact us and request a quote.

A Look at Challenge Coin History and Why They’re Still Cool Today

Challenge coins are an excellent morale booster for teams. Part of the reason lies in challenge coin history and traditions. Find out more about where challenge coins originated and how they’ve stayed popular all this time.

Are you looking for an original, unique marker of membership for your team or club? Challenge coins are special keepsakes and fantastic tools for ongoing teambuilding. Best of all is their fascinating history.

From Romans and Renaissance nobility to WWI pilots, challenge coins have played an interesting part in human history! Learn more about challenge coin history and just how they’ll turn you into a club hero here.

Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are small commemorative coins or medallions. You engrave them with a special insignia or message. The idea is to share within any special group as a mark of membership.

Think military units, civil society groups, sororities, fraternities, work teams or graduating class-groups. They are also bought and sold as collector items. In the military, challenge coins unit commanders give them to a unit member to mark special achievements.

Challenge Coin History

The story of the challenge coin’s history is unique. According to the legend, a US army lieutenant had coins made for his WW1 squadron. A pilot was captured behind enemy lines. When he escaped and made it across the border, a French patrol had no way to identify him.

Not recognizing his accent, they figured he was a spy from the enemy side. To avoid execution, the pilot showed his Challenge Coin to prove his identity and his US nationality. It saved his life.

There are histories of challenge coins going back even before this WWI tale. The Roman Empire gave them to soldiers for special achievements. During the Renaissance, they were called ‘Portrait Medals’.

These were handed among members of the royal family or nobility, to mark special occasions. Even today, the US President hands a challenge coin out to mark special occasions.

Fun Ways to Use Challenge Coins

The challenge coin gives members of your team a real sense of identity. But they are also a way to play ongoing team building ‘coin checks’. They don’t call it a challenge coin for nothing!

Once your team has been awarded their coins, you can initiate the coin challenge. One member can yell, ‘coin check’. Everyone has to show they are carrying their challenge coins. Anyone who isn’t carrying their coin has to buy a drink – or whatever other rules you set – for the challenger, and everyone carrying their coin.

Where to Buy Them

To mark a special event or membership of your club or team, consider challenge coins. At Metal Promo, we offer die struck challenge coins in a range of sizes. We also one or two side color options, and a range of edging options.

You can customize the challenge coin, mixing it up each year for members to collect all the coins in the series. We offer free artwork, free shipping, guaranteed quality and competitive pricing. We love posting verified reviews from customers on our website. We look forward to putting yours there, too.

Get a Free Quote

If you’re feeling inspired by challenge coin history, consider having some made. Your club, team, or military unit will love the physical symbol of their membership, or marker of their special achievement.

You can talk to us about a free quote and some ideas on artwork. Find your favorite options on our website, and get in contact today!