The History of Identification Cards

Identification tags have become very common place in our world today. They are utilized in all aspects of our daily lives. These identification tags are used for different reasons depending on the needs of the organization. In general, identification tags are worn so that a customer, a patient or a fellow employee can identify you by name or department.

Identification tags are also worn for security purposes. Security has become a major issue over the years. Our high tech world has led to many advances in identification card production and utilization. These tags can now be used for many situations. Through the use of computer chips, bar codes and magnetic strips ID cards can now carry a lot of information. They can limit your access to certain locations depending on your status. Identification is simply more improved and getting better everyday. But this was not always the case.

We are faced each and everyday of our lives with the need for identification for the living. But how often do we think about the identification of the dead? In this case I am referring to the “Unknown Soldier”. Military cemeteries are full of grave stones that are etched with that extremely sad word, ‘Unknown’. The fallen soldier who bravely gave his most precious commodity, his life, in defense of liberty and freedom forever rests as unidentified.

Back during the American Civil War identification tags were not issued or required. However, the thought of identification was undoubtedly on the minds of the soldiers. Prior to the battle many soldiers would write their name on a piece of paper and attach it too their shirt or etch their names in a piece of wood, bore a hole through it and then put it on a string around their neck. In those days soldiers that fell on the battlefield were buried almost where they fell. Many soldiers did not want to fall into that ‘Unknown’ category.

Although the government had yet to implement a plan for identification those in the commercial industry were well a head of the curve. They offered ‘soldier identification tags’ in their magazines and sent their representatives into the field to sell them. Even though there was a conscious effort by soldiers to ensure identification; when the war ended in 1865 around 42% of the fallen soldiers were buried as ‘Unknown’.

No official government identification proposal would be implemented until 1899. It was then that a round identification disc was suggested to be worn around the neck. By 1913 the military finally made it mandatory that all soldiers in combat wore identification tags. By 1917 the procedure was well in place. It would not be until 1941 that the round identity disc transformed into the oblong ID tags commonly worn by soldiers today. The ‘dog tags’, as they have come to be known had come a long way in eliminating the word ‘Unknown’ from ever being etched on a soldiers tombstone again.