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Artifact Friday: Dog Tags

We all know what dog tags are and what their main goal is but you may not know how they came to be. The term “dog-tag” was first coined by William Randolph Hearst in 1936 upon hearing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal plan involving the Social Security Administration which would give out nameplates for each citizen like military identification. There are also rumors that the nickname comes from World War II soldiers who felt like they were being treated like dogs and the tags look similar to the metal tags dogs wear on their collars.

The idea of personal identification tags began around the outbreak of the Civil War when troops were afraid of not being identified and placed in an unmarked grave. Before the metal tags were established, men would mark their clothing with stencils or pin paper tags to their clothes. A few used old coins and round lead or copper, while some carved their names into round wooden chunks then attached a string to it so it hung around their necks. Engraved metal tags were produced by non- government sellers and purchased by those who could afford them. These non-government vendors typically followed alongside the armies during their travel to maintain resources. In 1862, a New Yorker named John Kennedy offered to make thousands of engraved disks for the troops but the War Department declined his offer. By not accepting the offer over 40% of Union soldiers remain unidentified; out of the 17,000 troops buried in Vicksburg National Cemetery nearly 13,000 are marked as unknown. By 1899 an official request for service members to have ID tags came at the end of the Spanish-American War. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce who was in charge of the Army Morgue and Office of Identification in the Philippines recommended that the Army outfit all soldiers with a circular disk to identify those who were severely injured in action. His request was fulfilled in December 1906 when the Army posted an order requiring all soldiers to wear an aluminum disc-shaped ID tag. These tags were worn under their field uniform and read the soldier’s name, rank, company, regiment, or corps. Army tags included men’s social security numbers up until 2015 when they began putting soldiers’ Defense Department identification numbers. In 1916 a second disc was required in addition to the first one. The first tag was to remain with the body while the second