All About Challenge Coins: The History and Uses

all about challenge coins

Have you heard all about challenge coins?

You may have seen coins to mark special events, like the recent North Korea-United States summit.

They’re used by business to award teams and as special mementos. They’re probably most well known for being used in the military and by law enforcement groups.

Do you know how challenge coins came to be?

Believe it or not, they have a history that goes back centuries.

Read on if you want to know more about challenge coins and how you can use them to build teams and build friends for life.

What Exactly Is a Challenge Coin?

A challenge coin is a coin that’s about 2″ in diameter. They have insignia or a logo on them to identify a group, unit, or company.

They’re usually round coins, but they’re started to come out in different shapes and sizes. Some are shaped and used like business cards. Other challenge coins are shaped like an octagon.

History of Challenge Coins

Knowing all about challenge coins starts with the history of the coins.

That history can be pretty wild. It can also change, depending on who you talk to. There are stories, myths, and legends about how the challenge coin came to be.

No one knows for sure exactly how they got their start. These are the most common stories you’ll hear.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, soldiers were paid in coins for a day’s work of killing and fighting. If a soldier, in particular, did a great job or did something extraordinary in battle, he was rewarded with another coin.

It is believed that these extra coins were produced as special coins to show a soldier’s military unit.


Another common story is from World War I.

During that time, there were American pilots who flew with the French. One of those Americans was a financially well-off lieutenant.

He had made a set of challenge coins for his unit, and he kept his in a leather pouch. The lieutenant was captured by German soldiers, who took everything.

Except for the leather pouch.

The lieutenant escaped the Germans and found himself in a French village. The villagers thought he was German and were going to kill him.

He pulled his challenge coin out of his pouch, which was recognized by a French soldier. That coin saved the lieutenant’s life.

Modern Day

Challenge coins were sporadically used. In the 1960s there was only one military unit that had its own coin, and that was the Army’s 10th Special Forces.

It wasn’t until the 1980s when challenge coins became used more often in military units, and they became a tradition.

You’ll find challenge coins used in a lot of different areas. Local police departments, fire departments, military, and FBI units use challenge coins.

Large and small businesses have adopted the practice of using challenge coins to promote business and reward teams.

Where Did the “Challenge” Come From?

Picture this. A group of guys hanging around a bar, having a drink or two.

One of them pulls out a challenge coin and smacks it on the bar. That’s a challenge to the group to test if everyone has their coins with them. Everyone in the group quickly follows suit and puts their coin on the bar.

If someone was unlucky and left their coin at home, they buy the next round. Should everyone have their coins on them, then the challenger has to buy.

How to Use Challenge Coins in Business

In the military, being awarded a challenge coin is usually done through a handshake. There’s no ceremony, just a high-ranking officer acknowledging the recipient with a handshake and a nod.

You can employ a similar tactic in your business. Let’s say that your marketing team worked for months on a major project. It was a hard project, but they came through and helped the company improve its revenue.

You can stop by each cubicle, give them a handshake and challenge coin. It’s a subtle way to say thank you and show your team how much you value and appreciate them.

Maybe they’ll do a challenge to each other one night after a round of drinks at happy hour.

Rally Around a Cause

Even nonprofit organizations are using challenge coins to raise awareness of different issues. They’re also used to rally supporters around a common cause.

A great example is the American Heart Association. They just released their Mission: Lifeline Challenge Coin. They’re meant for supporters to give to EMT workers.

Build a Brand

How would you like to make a first impression that stands out?

A custom challenge coin is a way to do that. Not many people are familiar with challenge coins. They’re more likely to remember your business and your logo on the coin.

You can share your company’s mission or vision with employees and customers alike.

You could also use them as giveaways at trade shows. You can then have an exclusive event where attendees have to show their challenge coin for entry.

Where Do You Get Challenge Coins?

If you’re interested in getting challenge coins, where do you go?

It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking to collect old military challenge coins, you can start by visiting challenge coin trade shows. You can search online for trade shows in your area.

You can also search online for other collectors. You’ll want to get an understanding as to what makes a coin valuable before you try to start a serious collection.

If you want to know how you can get a coin made for your unit or team, there are companies that make custom coins.

All About Challenge Coins

Challenge coins have come a long way since ancient Rome.

They’re used in almost every environment where team-building and trust are essential. It’s not hard to see why when you know all about challenge coins.

These small coins can have a lot of meaning. They can be a symbol of a job well-done or mark the moment when everyone had to pull together to accomplish a goal.

Want to know more curiously fun facts? Check out our blog.

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