Various military items (especially those from World War II), such as camouflage and dog tags, have found their way into the civilian population. Once introduced to the general public, these items have continued to grow in popularity. The concept of dog tags dates back to the Civil War. At that time, some of the soldiers were known to pin notes to their uniforms (generally on the back of their coats) noting their name and address. Others would make use of their knapsacks or belt buckles to display their personal information.
Identification badge manufacturers began to capitalize on this need for identification and took out advertisements in periodicals. Originally, they designed the pins in a shape that denoted the branch of service. On the pins themselves, they engraved both the soldier’s name and his unit. In 1862, the U.S. Army refused a proposal that would provide a uniform disc for the officers and the enlisted of the Federal Army. This original proposal was rejected; but in 1906, the U.S. Army finally recognized the importance of a uniform identification and authorized an aluminum tag similar to the one proposed in 1862.
By July of 1916, the Army began to issue tags to all soldiers so that in the event of their death, one tag could stay with the body and the second tag could be given to the individual put in charge of the burial. Then, in 1918, when the Army first instituted the use of a serial number system, this number – along with the name of the enlisted and any medical alerts – would now be stamped on the tags.
Not until the Vietnam War did the use of silencers come into practice to help disguise the noise made by the two tags. While some of the soldiers used these silencers, others were known to tape the tags together or wear one around their neck and attach the second to their shoe laces. During this wartime, it also became popular to use dog tags on make-shift memorials in memory of fallen comrades.
Eventually, dog tags would transcend the practical military boundaries and find their way into civilian life both as a means of emulating the military use for identification, but also as a personal fashion statement.