Although it is not really known who invented award pins or when specifically they were first used, their history can be traced by looking back on when the process of inlaying was first practiced. Inlaying is the process of placing colored enamel elements onto a metal, wood, or stone base and then soldering wire at the back.
In 1800 BC, the inlaying method was used by the Egyptians. Also, in the 13th century, the ancient Greeks applied colorful powdered glass onto soldered filigree cavities to make accessories.
During the Yuan Dynasy, 1271 to 1370s, the Chinese used enamelware as form of art. They fired the wares to create colorful ornamental objects. These decorative adornments were popularized in the 1420s, during the Xuan De Dynasty.
Despite the ancient use of the inlaying process, award pins were more popularly known to be introduced during the American Civil War. During this period, several battle units were ordered to wear customized award pins to distinguish them among the different units. The pins helped the army organize their troops. Eventually, it also encouraged loyalty among members of the same unit.
It was in World War I when the use of award pins evolved and somehow dictated how it is used today. Instead of distributing pins to every member of the troop to help identify the units from one another, the pins were used to award selected troop members to recognize their exemplary service in the military. Often times, ribbons or dangling ornaments were added.
The next significant period of award pins was during the 1960s and 1970s. These were the decades of peace, love, and psychedelic. The pins were then referred to as Button Badges and were used as a form of protest. Because of wide rebellion and expression of speech, the button badges eventually became a fashion statement. Enamel badges or pins were extremely popular. In fact, a million badges were produced in the first year alone. During those decades, the so called hippies were seen sporting several and most of the times too many pins and badges all over their jackets and bags. The badges were so popular then that they were used as incentives, gifts and also to promote political messages.
During the 1980s, awarding of pins eventually stretched its range. Pins were given to government agencies and civil service entities like policemen and fire fighters are merit awards. Fraternities and sororities also gave badges to their members to show exclusivity. Medical services, schools and other organizations also used distinctive pins as a sign of membership and to mark outstanding achievements.
Old service badges and pins hold even great personal value because they were often handed down to family members as a souvenir of heroic duties. For many others, these pins can also represent cultural and historical value. Due to this, service pins have become treasured collectibles and valuable heirlooms.
The use of service pins and badges has evolved from military troops to regular individuals and then to government and political units. Its use was even more popularized by many social groups. A very good example is the worldwide proliferation of flag pins. The pins symbolized compassion, solidarity, and recognition among different countries in their time of sorrow and triumph. In England, badges were used during the Boer War to promote political message. While in China, Mao Tse Tung pins became powerful symbols of its Communist party. Also, in the United States of America, flag pins prevailed and symbolized America’s war on terror.
In the present day, pins can be used by almost everyone. They are widely produced, worn, and collected to convey diverse messages. Looking back on how it all began definitely gives award pins its own commemoration that goes beyond its size.