Custom Masonic Challenge Coins date back in history since time immemorial. The use of promotional products in America can be traced back to the 1800’s when Andrew Jackson was running for President. There are still a few collectors with some of his Campaign Coins supporting this evidence.
This story of how the challenge coin came to be has been passed down through the ages as it relates to a World War I story that goes something like this.
During WWI some American volunteers joined a newly formed squadron of pilots. And a wealthy lieutenant who was also believed to be a brother Mason designed a special coin after his newly formed squadron and had them cast as a solid bronze medallion with the squadron logo. He gave one to each member of his squadron. The Lt. carried his medallion around his neck in a small leather pouch.
Shortly after distributing the medallions, the lieutenants aircraft was shot down behind enemy lines and he was captured by a squad of German soldiers.
The German soldiers took everything from the lieutenant except for the medallion which he managed to conceal under his tongue.
Shortly after being transported to a French village that had been set up as a makeshift POW camp near the front lines, the lieutenant escaped by downing civilian clothes he was able to procure and just walked right out of the village. He didn’t have his military identification on him because it and all his other belongings had been confiscated by the German soldiers.
Finally the Lt. was able to reach the front lines after crossing no-man’s land and stumbled into a French outpost exhausted and hungry.
The French soldiers in that area were suspicious because of all the German spies who sometimes wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the Lt’s American accent, the French officers thought he was a saboteur and was about to kill him.
The American remembered his bronze medallion and just before they were about to shoot him he showed the medallion to his would-be executioners. The French captors immediately recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion, and gave the Lt. enough time to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him, they gave him a bottle of red wine to celebrate his new found freedom.
Eventually the Lt made it back to his squadron, where it became a tradition to ensure all members carried their medallion or coin at all times.
After the war many soldiers became Masons and decided to adopt the challenge coin tradition and started designing coins with Masonic emblems.
The name challenge coin was adopted when soldiers started challenging each other to see if they had their coin on them, which they were required to carry at all times. If one didn’t have his or her coin they would have to buy the others a round of drinks. After buying a couple of expensive rounds of drinks most solders remembered to keep their coin on them at all times. Hence the phrase challenge coins was coined.