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The u.s. military dog tags we’re most familiar with had their origins during WWI (1914-1918). Before that soldiers used various ad hoc methods of tagging themselves for purposes of identification in the event of death on the battle field. The concept of “identification tags” dates back to the Civil War (1861-1865) where names were written on paper tags and pinned to clothing. Other tags were made out of wood with carved holes at the end so they could be worn around the neck on a string.

The first introduction of a metal "identity discs" took place in 1906 and by 1913 the Army made ID tags mandatory. In 1916 a second tag was added, and by 1917 all combat troops had aluminum id tags hanging from their necks on either a rope or chain. The information on these tags was hand stamped with tool and die. Next came an oblong shape tag with more uniform printing known as the Navy/Marine style tag. The materials used to make this tag included brass and a “Monel” metal which provided more corrosion resistance.

The more familiar rounded-end rectangular stainless steel tags known as the M1940 were introduced by the Army in 1940 during the Second World War (1939-1945). These Army dog tags were embossed with letters and numbers using either manual or electric embossing machines resembling industrial size typewriters. By 1943 the Army was distributing sets of tags including one long chain, one short chain and two stainless steel tags. The chains had flat links…the beaded chain came later. The purpose of the short chain was to keep the tags separated to prevent them from making noise in the field. In addition, the small chain could be separated from the long chain for purposes of body identification. It was typically placed around the soldiers toe and left exposed while the body remained covered.

Prior to 1959 the Navy and Marine Corps used a circular metal tag with similar stamping information to the Army dog tag. By 1959 all branches of the U.S. armed forces were using the familiar stainless steel rectangular shaped dog tags which are still being used today. Even though there are slight variations in the format among the branches of the armed forces the content of the embossed information remains the same: Last and first name, social security number, branch of service, initials for both blood type and religious affiliation.

During the Vietnam War (1963-1975) subdued black dog tags were issued to Special Operation Forces operating behind enemy lines. It was also during this time that the WWII white hard plastic or rubber silencer was replaced with a softer black rubber material.

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