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.

What is a Challenge Coin and What Do They Represent?

What is a Challenge Coin and What Do They Represent?

You’re at a military ceremony. A soldier is being honored for service above and beyond the call of duty. As he approaches the unit commander to receive his award, he salutes and then reaches out to shake hands.

In the unit commander’s palm, before he clasps hands, you notice a glint of metal. Wondering what that is? Well, you’ve seen your first challenge coin.

What is a challenge coin? I’m glad you asked.

What is a Challenge Coin?

The simple answer is this: A challenge coin is a specially designed coin. It’s given to someone to confirm membership in an organization or group. A challenge coin can also honor a person for a special achievement.

Description

Challenge coins are small, metal coins that fit in the palm of your hand. They are made of metal. Each challenge coin has a unique design that belongs to the organization it represents.

The emblem or insignia of the organization is etched directly into the coin. The organization’s motto can be engraved around the edge of the coin. They can have colored enamel painted into the etching, depending on the unique design.

Though they are usually round, some challenge coins come in other shapes. Special designs even include cutouts or unique features, like a bottle opener tool.

Challenge coins are made out of a variety of metals. Some are made of zinc, bronze, and brass. Other more expensive versions even include 24-carat gold.

What Does a Challenge Coin Represent?

Challenge coins represent organizations, units, and teams. They can also represent an achievement, an anniversary or a special event. They build close-knit, lasting bonds between people who receive them and represent unity.

They have a long-standing tradition in military history. But the military isn’t the only service that uses them. First responder services also have a history of using challenge coins, too.

Civilian groups are starting to use challenge coins to represent accomplishments in their businesses. This is a new way to represent challenge coins. They are using them to build morale in teams, link people with similar interests and even to promote their brand.

Military Challenge Coins

There are many traditional challenge coins that represent each of the military branches, individual units, special groups and even specific missions. Military leaders can have their own coins, too. Top generals and the President of the United States have their own special challenge coins.

Service members are known to develop large collections of challenge coins during their time in the military. They feel pride and a sense of belonging when they display their various coins.

First Responders Challenge Coins

Like the military, first responders use challenge coins to honor service. Law enforcement agencies and firefighters use challenge coins to honor special accomplishments in the line of duty.

Government agencies and politicians are using challenge coins to recognize first responders in their communities. This creates a sense of honor and unity during a time of tragedy and loss.

What is the Purpose of a Challenge Coin?

The purpose of a challenge coin depends on why it was made in the first place. It can be used for membership, recognition, to create a bond between people in a group or to commemorate an anniversary or special event.

Membership

In the military, challenge coins are proof that you are a member of a unit or served on a specific tour of duty. They mean you are a member of an elite group of people.

In early military history, they were used for security. A service member may have been required to show the coin to prove their loyalty. That may not be necessary today, but being a member of the team is still a strong military tradition.

Awards and Recognition

Challenge coins are used to award team members who perform their duties extremely well. Giving a coin as a reward for excellent performance builds pride and morale. Receiving one is a great honor and team members work hard to get them.

Creates Bonds and Connections

The challenge coin tradition keeps members of the military connected to one another, even after they leave the service. Veterans frequently display coins from units they have served in, missions they have been on and leaders they have met. First responders receive coins for heroic efforts during times of tragedy.

Challenge coins pay tribute to events that members of an organization endured together and create a bond that will last a lifetime.

Branding

More recently, challenge coins have been used to identify a corporate brand or logo. Corporations are beginning to hand these out at conferences, sales events, and trade shows. A challenge coin is certainly more memorable than a business card.

Even schools and sports teams are jumping on the bandwagon. Mascots and logos are being put on coins to hand out at local events in communities.

Where to Get a Challenge Coin

What is a challenge coin? It’s a great way to recognize an individual, a team or bring meaning to an event or accomplishment. They create lasting bonds between team members and encourage hard work.

Challenge coins make great gifts that are memorable and unique. Whether you want to honor a service member, a first responder or a valuable team member, challenge coins make the moment special and memorable.

If you are considering a challenge coin for your organization or event, you can submit a request online. If you need help with your request, you can contact us directly.

The History and Rules of the Challenge Coin

The challenge coin is something few people know about, but those who do, these coins are very symbolic and meaningful. Learn more about the history of challenge coins and the rules of giving/receiving them in our article.

Never heard of a challenge coin? Don’t worry — you’re not the only one. The reality, though, is that the challenge coin has a long and intriguing history.

Although the challenge coin is something that few people know about, these coins are very symbolic and meaningful among those who have received them.

Here’s a glimpse at the history of the challenge coin and at the rules you’ll need to follow when giving and receiving them.

Let’s get started!

The Purpose and Appearance of a Challenge Coin

Many traditions have helped to build camaraderie among military personnel over the years. However, carrying challenge coins is one of the most well-respected ones. And today, they aren’t restricted to the military (even though they largely remain a mystery among those who are not in the armed forces).

Challenge coins are essentially small tokens or medallions that signify that people are members of certain organizations.

The diameters of challenge coins are usually between 1.5 and 2 inches, and these coins are typically around 1/10 inch thick. However, their sizes and styles vary greatly. Some may even take the shapes of dog tags, arrowheads, pentagons, and shields.

Challenge coins are usually made of nickel, copper or pewter and feature various finishes. Some feature simple designs, whereas others have more elaborate designs and highlights.

The Coin’s Origination

It’s not completely clear exactly where and why the challenge coin tradition began. However, we do know that military service and coins go back much farther than the modern age — possibly as far back as Ancient Rome.

In Rome, if soldiers excelled in battle one day, they would receive their typical day’s wages along with a separate bonus coin each. According to some accounts, these bonus coins were specially minted, featuring the marks of the legions from which they came. As a result, some soldiers apparently kept their coins as mementos, instead of spending them on wine and women.

These types of coins are still handed out today to reward people for jobs well done, particularly in the military. However, some administrators treat them much like autographs and business cards that they can store in their own collections.

Still, some soldiers use challenge coins today as identification badges proving that they served in certain units. Meanwhile, other challenge coins are distributed to the civilian population for publicity purposes or are sold as fundraising tools.

Possibly the First Challenge Coin

Another well-known story about the emergence of the challenge coin dates back to the First World War. At that time, a rich officer gave his men bronze medallions featuring the insignia of their flying squadron. Not long after that, a young flying ace was shot down and captured.

Germans are said to have removed everything from the ace’s person except for a pouch he was wearing — one that held his medallion. After he escaped to France, he was sentenced to die, as the French labeled him a spy. However, the ace presented his medallion as proof of his identity.

Because one of the French soldiers recognized the insignia, France delayed the ace’s execution. After his identity was confirmed, the ace was returned to his flying unit.

Later, holes were drilled in these types of medallions so that military men could place them around the neck rather than inside leather pouches.

The Challenge

So, where exactly does the “challenge” idea come from?

According to some stories, “the challenge” started after the Second World War in Germany. Americans stationed in Germany began to conduct “pfennig checks,” or checks for this low-denomination German coin. If you couldn’t produce a pfennig when someone else called a check, you had to buy the beers.

The pfennig check later evolved to a unit medallion check, with unit members challenging one another by slamming their medallions down on a bar. Any member who lacked his medallion had to purchase drinks for everyone else who had their coins. Meanwhile, if everyone could present a medallion, the challenger was the one who had to buy the drinks.

The same essentially applies today.

However, instead of firmly placing your challenge coin on the bar to initiate a coin check, you can raise your coin in the air and shout that you’re initiating a check. You could also accidentally initiate a check if you inadvertently drop your challenge coin.

In addition, to succeed in a challenge, you must have your challenge coin within arm’s length from you. If you don’t, well — tough luck.

Now, naturally, you may refuse to buy drinks for everyone if you end up losing the challenge. Note, however, that this is a detestable crime — one that may require you to return your coin to the agency that issued it to you.

And another thing: Challenge coin checks are allowed anytime and anyplace. So, be prepared.

Coins Today

If you receive a challenge coin today, you’ll likely get it via a secret handshake. This isn’t always the case, but it is a tradition upheld by many.

You can receive a challenge coin by being a part of a police department or fire department or by being involved with the Boy Scouts or the Lions Club, for example. The challenge coin has become a highly collectible and long-lasting way for people to show their allegiance anyplace and anytime.

How We Can Help

We offer high-quality, prestigious and custom-made coins for your organization. We are confident you will not find better craftsmanship anywhere else.

Our designers can use your emblems and colors to highlight the achievements and occasion you are interested in recognizing. Then, you’ll be able to review a proof showing you how your coin will look. If you see anything you don’t like, you can easily make the necessary changes to get your coin perfect.

You can expect your newly minted coins to show every detail of your design. And all of our products are individually packaged and shipped at no cost.

Get in touch with us today to find out more about the challenge coin and how we can deliver the perfect custom coins to you this year. Just fill out the price quote below to begin the process for your next custom challenge coin!