Challenge Coin Design 101 – Everything You Need to Know

Challenge Coin Design 101 - Everything You Need to Know

Your challenge coins are often the most prized and most public physical logo of your organization. They are the face of your military unit, police department, firehouse, school club – they represent the identity of the members who carry them. 

A less-than-ideal coin can cast an undeservedly negative light on your company or group. On the other hand, a well-designed coin portrays your company or group in an admirable light.

When creating a new coin, it’s important to know that design is not an afterthought. Rather, it’s the most important consideration throughout the entire process. It’s included in your mission statement, worn by members at events, and displayed proudly on desks and walls.

What Is A Challenge Coin?

A challenge coin is an official coin which is awarded to members of military units, fire departments, police departments, and other organizations. It’s a small piece of metal that is given to honor the service and commitment of those who have earned it. 

In some organizations, it is traditional for a member to carry their challenge coin at all times— for example, military personnel are often required to carry their coins. Challenge coins originated with military fighter squadrons in World War I. 

The coins were carried in the airmen’s flight suit pockets, and they were encouraged to show the coin whenever they were in public to prove their identity.

In most organizations, only members are issued challenge coins. Some groups that issue challenge coins limit their issuance to those who have achieved a certain status within the organization. 

For example, some police departments issue silver challenge coins to officers who become field training officers within a department. Some collectors trade and sell challenge coins on eBay and elsewhere, but these are generally not authorized by any specific organization.

How Can I Get A Challenge Coin?

Challenge coins are usually issued by a specific organization branch, often by one of its higher-rank officers or members. Some organizations issue challenge coins to nearly everybody, but this isn’t necessarily the case. 

However, some organizations require members to apply for their challenge coins. Those wanting a coin of their own should consider contacting the organization in question to learn how to obtain one. You can check the challenge coins website to browse and buy a wide selection of challenge coins.

What’s The History Of Challenge Coins?

The history of the challenge coin is not clearly defined but can be traced back to World War I. In 1917, a United States Army aviator named Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker was so impressed by the fellow pilots that he had coins made with the symbols of each squadron. The pilots carried the coins to prove their identity if they were ever shot down over enemy territory.

Shortly after World War I, General Billy Mitchell began issuing official challenge coins to recognition personnel in the United States Army Air Corps. These challenge coins were modelled after Rickenbacker’s and, at first, were made of silver. 

Challenge coins are usually made with high-quality metals like silver or gold because they don’t tarnish easily. These coins were used for identification and non-monetary purposes.

The U.S. Air Force issued the first challenge coins to their airmen – now airmen carried a special coin in their flight suit pockets, which was shown when they were in public to prove their identity. This practice continues today with the Air Force’s challenge coin program.

Since then, many organizations have issued challenge coins as an expression of appreciation for members who have achieved leadership positions.

Where Does The “Challenge” Part Of The Coin Come From?

The “challenge” part is a custom originally from military fighter squadrons. Fighter pilots during World War I had to be highly trained and skilled at coordinating with each other. The challenge coins issued by the military were one way for the planes to identify themselves and their squadron members if ever shot down over enemy territory.

Why Do Members Hold On To Challenge Coins?

There are many reasons why members of an organization hold tightly to their challenge coins, but the main reason is that they serve as a reminder of the group’s identity and membership. The coin is a symbol of an organization’s existence and a representation of everything it believes in, from values and beliefs to its accomplishments. When separated from their organizations, its members take pride in having their challenge coins in their possessions.


The challenge coin can be an effective and meaningful part of an organization’s culture. However, the organization needs to maintain its control over the sample. Designing and issuing a special coin shows members that they are valued members of that organization.

About the author

Steven Ly

Steven Ly is the Startup Program and Events Manager at TheNextHint Inc. She recruits rockstar startups for all TC events including Disrupt, meetups, Sessions, and more both domestically and internationally. Previously, she helped produce Dreamforce with Salesforce and Next '17 with Google. Prior to that, she was on the advertising teams at both Facebook and AdRoll, helping support advertisers in North America and helped grow those brands globally. Outside of work, Steven enjoys Flywheel, tacos, the 49ers, and adventuring around the globe.

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