The Meaning Behind Receiving A Custom Challenge Coin

Challenge coins feature a rich tradition and meaningful history to those who receive them

Through the centuries, people have used challenge coins for several reasons. But what is the history of custom challenge coins? What does it mean to be given one of these tokens?

Today we take a close look into both of those questions and hopefully provide you with some solid answers. Throughout history, members of groups have created ways to honor one another and provide their loyalty and membership. This has been done through songs, mottos, tattoos, or other markers that signify the importance of their bond and their allegiance to the same group.

Challenge coins are an extension of that tradition, used as a way to celebrate membership while creating a bond between members. From US Presidents to police officers to soldiers, even police officers and first responders, many groups use challenge coins to build morale and fellowship while also using them to honor hard work and unrivaled dedication. While you may have heard about challenge coins, they have a long, rich history that dates back much further than most would imagine. Let's take a look at the use of custom challenge coins, their account, and exactly what it means to be presented with one.

By definition, a challenge coin is a coin or medallion created by a group and presented to the members of that group. Generally speaking, challenge coins will feature the seal or logo of a group and their motto or other identifying images, words, and details. Typically, they are used by different military and law enforcement groups, showcasing the membership of specific units, groups, or squads. But how did they get their start? Challenge coins have been used throughout history, and they have even played a role in saving the lives of soldiers in conflict.

The first use of challenge coins can be traced all the way back to the ancient Romans. Rome had one of the greatest armies in history, conquering huge parts of the globe in a short amount of time. Commanders in the Roman army watched and fostered the greatness of their soldiers and strived to recognize them for their acts of bravery on the battlefield. To do so, they had custom coins made for these courageous soldiers, honoring their name, unit, and accomplishments in battle. The coins not only honored soldiers but also raised troop morale and built camaraderie among the ranks.

Popular families also used custom coins during the Renaissance. Upper-class families would give their friends and family members gifts known as "portrait coins."  These portrait coins usually had the portrait or likeness of the recipient on one side and their family seal on the other. The coins were presented when someone had accomplished a remarkable feat. They also were used to commemorate special events like marriages, birthdays, and deaths. And that is only the beginning.

While challenge coins aren't exactly new, their use in the modern world can be traced back to World War I. During the war, many young, upper-class men volunteered to join the military. One such man was a lieutenant in charge of an air squadron in the Army Air Corps who honored his men with bronze coins made with their squadron insignia on them. These special coins were presented to each man as a gift, cherished and worn with honor. One young pilot wore his coin in a leather pouch around his neck, carrying it with him at all times. Sadly, the pilot was shot down shortly after receiving his coin. Though he had survived the crash, he was captured quickly by German forces and taken prisoner.

The Germans stripped the pilot of his uniforms, equipment, and belongings, though they left the leather pouch around his neck. After some time, the pilot was able to escape the Germans during an attack on the base he was held. The soldier eventually made his way to the front lines, though just before making it, he was again captured, though this time by French soldiers. The soldiers believed the young pilot to be a spy and ordered his execution. Before they were able to carry out the sentence, the pilot showed the French soldiers his coin. One soldier recognized the coin and its design, saving the young pilot's life in the process. The execution was suspended, and they were able to identify him as an American pilot. Once his identity was confirmed, the soldier was escorted back to his squadron, living to fight another day.

Upon the return of the pilot, he shared his story with fellow pilots and soldiers. Soon enough, they all began to carry their coins on them at all times. The soldiers even invented a game to keep fellow soldiers on their toes. When pilots were at a bar, members of the squadron would take out their coin and "challenge" others to show their coin. If any group members didn't have their coin, they would have to buy the next round of drinks for every person who had their coin. If the challenged members have their coin, the challenging member would have to buy the round of drinks. Although this isn't standard practice for all groups with challenge coins, many still follow the tradition and honor the ritual.

Different groups present their challenge coins to members for various reasons. Typically, groups offer challenge coins as a sign of their acceptance into the group. For instance, the U.S. Air Force presents all of its basic training and officer training graduates with challenge coins to congratulate them and commemorate their accomplishments. Some groups only present challenge coins to those who have achieved something great. Some law enforcement agencies and fire departments give out challenge coins when their officers and members go beyond the call of duty. Coins also are used to commemorate unique acts of fallen soldiers and officers as well. Challenge coins may also be presented to non-members who do something great for the group. Challenge coins may also be given to guests of honor, such as politicians and others.

If you would like to find out more about challenge coins or are interested in ordering some custom coins of your own, we can help. Simply give us a call toll-free at 1 (855) 272-8451 or email us. We'd be happy to help! 


Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty


Hello, I'm Jesse Daugherty, a music enthusiast, sports aficionado, and an avid supporter of the arts. I'm a writer and content creator. For the past 5 years, I've shared my knowledge of custom challenge coins and other promotional products, exploring their designs, meaning, and purpose.