The Insignia, used by various branches of the military, has a deep root in American history, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Originally, the initial rankings used in the United States Military (oftentimes distinguished by the insignia) were established using the British military rankings. The British army would differentiate between rankings using items such as feathers, sashes and stripes, but sometimes, the rank would be identified by the weapon that was being carried or by an eye-catching uniform. While quite a few of these initial rankings are still used today, more have been added, while some have become obsolete.
The Army (and Marines) carried over many of the English ranks even after the war. The Navy, however, developed their own ranking system. Even today, the U.S. Navy and U.S Coast Guard no longer even use the term “rank”. Among the enlisted Sailors, the proper expression is “rate”.
The history of the military insignia dates back to the Continental Army and General George Washington. The Continental Army could not afford to purchase uniforms. As a result, distinguishing between the various ranks within the army became difficult and General Washington requested that badges be designed to alleviate the confusion. Development of the insignias continued into the Revolutionary War with the distinction of a two star General (major general) and a one star (brigadier). At that time, these stars would be worn on the shoulder boards or epaulettes. Insignias continued to evolve, along with rankings, into World War II.
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With five U.S. military branches and each with several rankings (or ratings), the number of different insignia over the years reaches well into the hundreds of thousands. Today, military insignias are highly collectible items.