Tradition Meets Honor! The Presidential Challenge Coin

Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty

Tradition Meets Honor! The Presidential Challenge Coin
Photo by: May @ Unsplash

Challenge coins have a long, fascinating, and compelling history. Each one comes with its meaning and serves its purpose. Challenge coins have a history that is rooted in military tradition. Some coins are more popular and distinguished than others. One of the most sought-after and prominent challenges is the presidential challenge coin. Though presidential challenge coins are a modern trend, it doesn't change their meaning and value. The presidential challenge coin may only date back a few decades, but its prominence in military life has been around since ancient Roman times. Today, we look back at the history of challenge coins while also diving into military coins and the highly sought-after presidential challenge coin. Find out more below.


Custom challenge coins are popular to military members and have been a staple of military life for decades. But, they are also used outside of the military by firefighters and police officers, even non-profits and other organizations. The history of the challenge coin can be traced back to ancient Rome. Soldiers were paid for performing in battle, receiving a daily wage for their efforts. Soldiers would also receive a separate, unique coin as a bonus. It is thought that these coins were decorated with the mark of the legion they belonged to. The special coins became keepsakes for Roman soldiers, who carried them as a memento of their loyalty and allegiance. Since then, challenge coins have remained a part of military tradition. Things have changed in terms of designs; however, the meaning behind the coins is the same. These days, military challenge coins are used to showcase membership to specific groups or squadrons and presented for promotions and other accomplishments in a soldier's career.


Today's challenge coins that we all are familiar with originated back in World War I. As volunteers from around the country joined the military and headed to battle, many well-to-do students decided to leave school behind. One wealthy lieutenant had bronze medallions produced that featured his squadron's emblem. The coins were presented to each crew member while he kept one for himself. As the story goes, the lieutenant’s aircraft was damaged in a mission over Germany, forcing him to land behind enemy lines. He was then captured and imprisoned in France by German forces before escaping. He was discovered by French soldiers who assumed he was a spy for the enemy. The lieutenant was able to show his medallion, which was instantly recognized by the French soldiers, saving him from execution. The lieutenant was able to provide his identity and was eventually returned to his squadron. Challenge coins then grew in popularity during World War II, possibly used as a way to identify personnel behind enemy lines. After World War II, they were adopted among all ranks and branches of the military. Military challenge coins still hold the same significance today, though the designs have changed. TOday's challenge coins feature battalion logos, mascots, and other meaningful details. They are used to build camaraderie, though they are also used to recognize accomplishments.


The presidential challenge coin is a relatively new trend that President Clinton started. As an avid coin collector, the former president would pass out personal coins as a memento. He has even shown off his collection of unique coins that he has received throughout the years. Challenge coins are even seen in his personal portrait that hangs in the White House. Each president has had their own coin, presenting them to soldiers and foreign dignitaries. President George W. Bush was a fan of present challenge coins, often handing them to family members of soldiers killed in action overseas. The design featured a 3D mold of the White House with “George W. Bush, Commander in Chief '' text on the front and the presidential seal on the back. Former President Obama was often photographed presenting coins to soldiers guarding Air Force One or Marine One. His challenge coin features a 3D molding of the White House, with his signature below. Gold text surrounded the White House on a blue background, reading: “Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States." President Trump also created his own presidential challenge coin design, even receiving one by Vice Admiral Dave Johnson during a briefing at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Back in October, President Joe Biden presented a presidential coin to Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican. Biden described the coin as a "command coin" that is given to warriors and leaders.


Military challenge and presidential challenge coins are steeped in history and tradition. Challenge coins are being used far outside of the military, though. Businesses, brands, companies, and other organizations are using challenge coins. One thing that hasn’t changed is the reason they are being presented. Challenge coins are an excellent way to praise those who work hard and for accomplishments and achievements of any kind. At ChallengeCoins4Less.com, we know custom coins and their value. To find out more about what we do or to get started designing your own custom coin, give us a call toll-free at 1 (855) 272-8451 or email us. We made the process easy and effortless.