What Are Challenge Coins? The History and Tradition That’s Still Alive Today


Have you ever heard of a challenge coin? If you’ve served in the military, the answer is likely to be a resounding yes.

Challenge coins go back several generations (or beyond), and even presidents have hopped on board the challenge coins bandwagon over the last 20 or so years. Some presidential challenge coins are more controversial than others.

You’ll find these coins have been adopted by businesses, service organizations and first responders.

What are challenge coins? Keep reading to find out.

What are Challenge Coins?

Challenge coins are simple coins that are less than 2” in diameter. Traditionally, they’ll have the logo or insignia of a military unit.

They’re handed out quietly among military members when they’ve gone above and beyond in their work. They’re used as a way to show that someone is a member of a unit to create camaraderie.

You’ll see them being traded or sold as collector’s items now.

Challenge Coin History

How did these little coins become a symbol of camaraderie and a job well done? It depends on who you talk to.

You could argue that the history of challenge coins goes all the way back to the Romans. They rewarded soldiers with coins, and those who did great work on the battlefield were given more coins as a reward.

Some say that these coin at this early time did have some of the military insignia on them.

Some people will say that challenge coins go back to the Korean War, others will say they were started during Vietnam. There’s one story, however, that people love to tell. It’s the type of legend that seems too good to be true, but it’s a great story anyway.

During World War I, a group of American fighter pilots who joined up to help the French. One of the fighter pilots was a well-off person who decided to make coins with the insignia of his unit.

This fighter pilot was later shot down and captured by the Germans. The Germans took everything from this soldier, with the exception of the coin he kept in a small pouch. The American fighter pilot escaped from the Germans and made his way to a small French village.

The French villagers mistook him for a German spy and were going to kill him. The American pulled out his coin, which was the only thing on him. A French soldier happened to recognize the insignia on the coin. That saved the American fighter pilot’s life.

Modern Challenge Coins

In the 1960s, challenge coins were officially commissioned by the 10th Special Forces Group. This was the only military unit to have its own official coin until the 1980s. At that time, more units throughout the military issued challenge coins.

The use of challenge coins has expanded to businesses, first responder units, other government departments, and even other countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Even the Catholic Church stores are selling challenge coins to give people a renewed sense of strength. 

Why are They Called Challenge Coins?

Another common question is about the name challenge coins. How did these medallions get their name?

When military members were out together, usually at a bar, someone would issue a challenge. This was to make sure that everyone was carrying their coin on them.

The challenger would put their coin on the bar. That’s like calling everyone out to put their coin on the bar. If everyone has their coins on them, the challenger buys the next round.

Should someone forget to have their challenge coin on them, they’re buying the next round for everyone.

What are Challenge Coins Used For?

Challenge coins are usually earned. In the military, they’re used as a way to show that their work has gone unnoticed, like participating in a special mission.

Think about it. When you share a very intense experience with a group of people, you carry that shared experience with you forever. It can be true whether you’re working on a project or on a championship team.

A challenge coin symbolizes that shared experience. That creates an even deeper bond among those who were a part of that experience.

Challenge coins can be used by every type of business to show that there’s a job that needs to be recognized. That makes employees feel more valued.

In marketing, challenge coins can be used as part of the brand experience. A challenge coin with a little company information and the logo can make a stronger impact than a business card.

How to Create Your Own Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are for any type of organization. How do you go about creating your own? Follow these simple steps.

The first thing you want to do is define your brand. Do you have a lifestyle brand or do you have something that’s a bit more conservative?

That’s what you want to be reflected on the challenge coin.

You also want to choose the right sized challenge coin. You want something that is big enough to make an impression, but not so big it’s hard to carry around in your pocket.

Challenge coins can come in a variety of shapes from round to rectangular. The shape you choose should be congruent with your brand.

Take the time to sketch out a few designs to test out. When you’re ready to buy challenge coins, shop here to get started.

Challenge Coins for Everyone

Challenge coins are a unique way to show appreciation for a job well done. They have roots in the military but have expanded to become more mainstream.

You can use challenge coins to showcase your brand, to build camaraderie, or to tell someone their hard work has not gone unnoticed. They’re so unique, you’re likely to leave people asking “What are challenge coins?”

Do you want more inspiration? Check out this article to learn the true story behind the Lacoste crocodile logo