Dog tags first appeared on the battle field during the Civil War. American soldiers wanted to ensure that their identities would be known should they die in battle. In the mid 1800’s, most soldier’s took the initiative to create the first forms of identification. Many fashioned their own “ID” out of pieces of wood and took great care to mark all their personal belongings. A hole was punched in one end so that they could be worn on a string around the neck.
“Soldier’s Pins” were made of silver or gold and were inscribed with an individual’s name and unit designation. Private vendors offered these “Identification disks” for sale just prior to battles. Many feared being listed among the unknowns. The Federal Government still had not issued an official identification tag. 42% of the Civil War dead remain unidentified.
In1899, the first official issuing of identification tags took place. Army Regulations of 1913 made identification tags mandatory, and by 1917, all combat soldiers wore aluminum discs on chains around their necks.
By the beginning of World War II, the circular disc was replaced by the oblong dog tag as we know it today.
A common myth associated with the dog tag was the purpose of the notch on dog tags issued between 1941 and the early 1970’s. Battlefield rumor held that the notched end of the tag was placed between the front teeth of battlefield casualties to hold the jaws in place. There are no official records indicating these instructions in the American military. The purpose of the notch was to hold the blank tag steady on the embossing machine. Modern machinery today does not require a notch.
Post-World War II tags are worn on a bead chain, with an attached short loop for the second tag. They bore name (surname, followed by initials); service number; service; blood type; and religion, if desired by the individual.