History of the Challenge Coin
During World War 1, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scion attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in mid-term to join the war.
In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze, now called a challenge coins, and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck. Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilot`s aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small pouch around his neck.
the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front.
Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped. However,
he was without personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding
German patrols by donning civilian attire and reached the front
lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no man`s land. Eventually,
he stumbled onto a French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs
has plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded
as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the
young pilot`s American accent, the French thought him to be
a saboteur and made ready to execute him. He had no identification
to prove his allegiance, but he did have his leather pouch containing
the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough for him
to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him
a bottle of wine.
at his squadron, it became tradition to ensure that all members
carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished
through challenge in the following manner- a challenger would
ask to see the medallion. If the challenged could not produce
a medallion, they were required to buy a drink of choice for
the member who challenged them. If the challenged member produced
a medallion, then the challenging member was required to pay
for the drink.
tradition continued on throughout the war and for many years
after the war while surviving members of the squadron were still
Today most units in the military have their own custom unit coin or challenge coin that represents their specific unit or organization. Challenge coins are given out as a recognition award or a token of appreciation. Over the last few years military unit challenge coins have grown in popularity and are being produced in very large numbers. The number of companies producing or selling custom challenge coins has also exploded with the advent of the internet. When Richmond Designs launched their first website dedicated to custom challenge coins there were only five other companies online selling coins. Today there are hundreds of "Challenge Coin Companies" out there but few have the knowledge and experience that Richmond Designs has.