The First Military Dog Tags
At the start of the Civil War fallen soldiers on both sides who died in battle were generally buried where they fell. The remaining soldiers realized that, in the event of their own death, their remains would never be identified nor would their family be notified of their demise. To aid in their identification these soldiers began pinning paper and cloth ribbons, printed with their name, unit, and hometown, to their uniforms. They would also scratch this information onto the soft metal of their belt buckles and stencil their name and hometown on their knapsacks.
Shortly after this retailers and manufacturers saw a need and stated advertising ‘Soldier Pins’ in the periodicals of the time, such as Harper’s Weekly. These first military identification tags, which were pinned to the uniform, were available in gold and silver and came in different shapes to designate different branches of the military. These were not widely used.
Sutlers were civilian merchants who followed the troops and operated tent stores to supply tobacco and food staples to the soldiers. These sutlers also began supplying the soldiers with identification tags that were machine stamped from various soft metals. These were engraved with the soldier’s name, unit, and hometown and could also list the battles the soldier had participated in. There was a hole punched in the top and these first American 'dog tags' were worn around the neck hanging from a string or cord.
Military Dog Tags Made Standard Issue
In 1899 Chaplin Charles C. Pierce, Quartermaster of Identification in the Philippines, proposed adding an ‘identity disc’ to the standard combat field pack. Not much happened with this until The Army Regulations of 1913 made identification tags mandatory and by 1917 all of the soldiers were wearing an aluminum identification tag into combat. These aluminum identification discs were replaced by the Navy/Marine style oblong ‘Monel’ metal dog tag which was made of an alloy of copper and nickel. This style of dog tag was used well into WWII.
Military Dog Tags in World War 2
Testing of a new style of identification tag was started in 1938 and by 1940 the first rounded–end rectangle dog tag, known as the M1940 issue, was being introduced. These notched identification tags had the text debossed or stamped in and devices were available to actually use the dog tag itself to stamp military and medical records. With the addition of the blood type, tetanus shot information, and religious preference, this identification tag was now a life saving device.
One of the most common myths about these notched dogtags was that the identification tag was jammed into the teeth of the dead soldier to identify the body being returned home for burial. The truth of the matter is that the notch on the dog tag was used to position and align the dog tag on a location pin in the Addressograph embossing machines.
These M1940 notched identification tags were used until they were replaced by what is now known as the M1967 dog tag. The notch was eliminated and the text was now to be embossed, which is raised text like that on a credit card. These dogtags were made of T304 stainless steel and, for the first time, all branches of the US Armed Forces, including the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines, were all required to use the same dogtag. Although all branches of the Armed Forces now use the same dog tag the military text formats are unique for each branch of the military. These unique military text formats can all be found on our website at - Military Dog Tags.
Military Dog Tags of the Future
The US Army is currently developing and testing several new dogtags known by various names including the Soldier Data Tag, Individually Carried Record, Meditag, and the Personal Information Carrier. Using RFID(radio frequency identification), microchip or USB technology these dog tags will hold a soldier’s medical and dental records. These will not replace the current dogtag but will be worn in addition to the current dogtags. The TacMedCS currently being developed by the Marine Corps will use advanced electronics, RFID, and even GPS technology to help pinpoint wounded soldiers.