While there are several dog tag formats extant around the world, it’s the US Army dog tags form that we are most familiar with. They list the surname, given name, social security number (originally service number), blood type and religion – stamped on small oval pieces of metal that are worn on a metal chain around the neck. The U.S. Army was the first branch to authorize identification tags in War Department General Order No. 204, dated December 20, 1906. The Army altered its regulations on July 6, 1916, and now all soldiers are issued two ID tags — one to remain with the body and the other to go to the individual responsible for the burial for record-keeping purposes. After WWII, the US Navy Department adopted the same dog tags used by the US Army and Air Force, which led to a single size and shape to become the American standard of today.
During World War II, dog tags were first worn by civilians when soldiers often gave them to loved ones before deployment or when dating, very much like the high school or college tradition of giving a girlfriend one’s letterman jacket or school ring to wear. Also, in the 1950s, at the height of fears about a possible nuclear war with the USSR, it is rumored that all New York City public school pupils were issued dog tags to identify them in the event of war.
In recent years, the wearing of dog tags has found its way into the fashions favored by the younger generation through a style first termed as “military chic”. Originally, they were worn as a part of a pseudo-style of military uniform by teens and college students wishing to put forward a tough or militaristic image, dog tags have since gained prominence in broader fashion circles, also becoming popular with celebrities like movie or rock stars and athletes. The tags can be engraved with a person’s personal details, sentiments for a loved one, their beliefs or tastes, a favorite quote, or may bear the name and/or logo of a popular band or performer.
Like its military cousin, for the longest time identification tags used to aid in finding lost pets were all stamped or embossed on metal blanks which were more or less limited to a finite amount of information proscribed by the size of the embossed letters used on the tags by the machines employed for stamping. In recent years, new materials like silicone, colored metals and plastics and methods of machine or laser engraving have given birth to a cornucopia of fun, new shapes, colors, and methods of engraving for the new materials which have rendered the old stamped tags obsolete. Gone is the day of the boxy, sometimes unevenly spaced letters borne on a silver or gold-colored metal blank which was only available in limited-sized round or oval shapes.
In addition to a varied palate of colors like red, green, orange, purple, or even reflective choices like a holographic silver, tags now come shaped like hearts, paw prints, dog or cat faces, and dog houses. It’s even possible to find shapes like a skull and crossbones, dog bones, suitcases, stars, t-shirts and the Liberty Bell. Now, anyone can buy personalized id dog tags and can include any type of custom message or design. New laser engraved custom dog tags engrave in a frosty white for a great eye-catching contrast of colors. Modern dog tags or I. D. tags have clearly come a long way from their humble beginnings as a way to keep track of servicemen.