History of Military Dog Tags

There are many styles and changes that have been made to dog tags over the years. The idea stems all the way back from the Civil War when soldiers were worried about being buried in unmarked graves. They would fashion their own personal identification in various different ways. Some examples were marking their clothing, using old coins, bits of copper or lead and stamping their names on to the item and attaching it somewhere on their person. For the fortunate ones that could afford engraved Jewelry, they would purchase such items from peddlers that would follow the armies during the war. Dog tags were officially issued in 1906. The army put out an official order requiring aluminum disc shaped ID tags. From this point on military issued ID tags “dog tags” have undergone many changes. This is why it is important when wanting to replicate your tags or a loved one’s dog tags, that you know the branch and year of service. Because not only did the differences occur between branches it also changed between and during wars.  

Besides serving as an article of identification, in 1941 it became a means of life saving information. It was at this time that they added a person’s blood group. Indicated by symbols “A”, “B”, “AB”, and “O” at this time the RH negative blood types were not available till the 1950s.

Furthermore, listing the soldiers’ yearly tetanus toxoid vaccination was also added. This was symbolized by the letter “T” and the last numerals of the year of vaccination. In addition, the religion of the soldier was also added to the very far bottom of the tag. The choices being only a few groups then, “C” catholic, “H” Hebrew, “P” protestant for WW2 and Korean War tags. Other options wouldn’t come till 1956.

There are also notched and un-notched tags. The notch is located on one end of the tag.  There is an on-going myth/legend that has been around since M-1940 tags were introduced. The myth is, following death, the tag will be inserted into the mouth between the teeth. This would hold the mouth open, allowing gases to escape and the body. This however is not true. The purpose for the notch was due to the addressograph printer that would hold the tag in the proper position for embossing.  

To see samples of all the different styles please see the pictures below.

***DOG TAGS a history of the American military identification tag 1861-2002 by Paul F Braddock