The notion of identifying your personal stuff has been around for centuries. From scratches made with sticks and stones to sewing labels onto clothing. The same problem of identification came with the military. Whose boots do these belong to? Or, most importantly, whose body is this?
The first incidence of using identification on the battlefield was during the Civil War. Soldiers would sew or pin tags of cloth or paper onto their clothing and effects in order to be identified correctly in case they should die on the battlefield. Some even took the initiative to carve their names onto pieces of wood with a hole on one side for a piece of string to hang it around the neck.
Commercial industries saw a potential in this product and started to market items that could be custom made for each soldier, at his own cost. Harper’s Weekly Magazine advertised “Soldier’s Pins” which could be mail ordered. These disks would be made of silver or gold and inscribed with the individual’s name and unit designation. Even with this obvious need, the U.S. Government did not issue I.D. tags till 1899. (42% of the Civil War dead remain unidentified).
Chaplain Charles C. Pierce was tasked with the creation of the Quartermaster Office of Identification in the Philippines. He recommended the use of an “identity disk” to be part of the field kit for all soldiers. The U.S. Army Regulations of 1913 made identification tags mandatory. By 1917, all combat soldiers wore quarter sized aluminum disks on a chain around their neck.
By the beginning of WWII, the name “Dog Tag “became common because of the similarity between the I.D. tag and the license tag of a canine. During this war, an oblong shape replaced the round disk. This was done in order to place more personal info on the tag. This tag was replaced by a “Notched” tag that used the notch to place it correctly into an embossing machine.
The Army is currently testing a new type of tag that uses digital technology to keep an immense amount of data on each individual; not only name, rank, and serial number but medical history and GPS location. Still worn around the neck, these tags will help in identification and location globally. The “Dog Tag” has come a very long way from a crude, carved wooden disk for courageous Civil War soldiers to the global technology of our present day in order to identify our valiant soldiers all around the world.
Nathaniel Grauwelman as well as various staff and volunteers of WCHS