The History of Rank
History of Enlisted Ranks
"Chevron" is an architectural term denoting the rafters of a roof
meeting an angle at the upper apex. The chevron in heraldry was
employed as a badge of honor to mark the main supporters of the
head of the clan or "top of the house" and it came to be used in
various forms as an emblem of rank for knights and men-at-arms in
feudal days. One legend is that the chevron was awarded to a
knight to show he had taken part in capturing a castle, town, or
other building, of which the chevron resembled the roofs. It is
believed from this resulted its use as an insignia of grade by
The lozenge or diamond used to indicate first sergeant is a mark
of distinction and was used in heraldry to indicate achievement.
Method of Wearing
Chevrons were sewn on the sleeves of uniforms with the point down
from approximately 1820 to 1903. They were worn with the points
both up and down between 1903 and 1905 after the first reversal
from "down" to "up" was authorized on 1 May 1903 in Army
Regulation No. 622. This confusion period, from 1903 to 1905, was
the result of the color change in the chevrons provided for in
the regulation which also directed a standard color for each
branch, corps, or organization and replaced the gold-colored
chevrons. Because of the number of gold insignia available,
troops were permitted to wear the old-type chevron until the
supply became exhausted.
To assure uniformity in both color and position of the new
colored chevrons, War Department Circular 61, dated 30 November
1905, stated that the points of the chevrons would be worn points
upward. It also provided for the following colors as had been
directed in Army Regulation No. 622, dated 1 May 1903. The colors
Artillery – scarlet;
Cavalry – yellow;
Engineers – scarlet piped with orange;
Hospital Corps – maroon piped with white;
Infantry – light blue;
Ordnance – black piped with scarlet;
Post QM Sergeant – buff;
Signal Corps – orange piped with white;
West Point Band – light blue;
and West Point Detachment – buff.
As early as 1820, chevrons were worn with the point down,
although there was not an official direction of this to appear in
regulations until 1821 when chevrons were authorized for both
officers and enlisted men. Circular No. 65, 1821, stated that
"Chevrons will designate rank (both of officers through the rank
of captain and enlisted men) as follows: Captains, one on each
arm, above the elbow, and subalterns, on each arm below the
elbow. They will be of gold or silver lace, half an inch wide,
conforming in colour to the button of their regiment or corps.
The angles of the chevron to point upwards."
"Adjutants will be designated by an arc of gold or silver fringe,
(according to the colour of their trimmings), connecting the
extreme points formed by the ends of the chevron. Sergeant Majors
and Quartermaster Sergeants will wear one chevron of worsted
braid on each arm, above the elbow. Sergeants and senior
musicians, one on each arm, below the elbow, and corporals, one
on the right arm, above the elbow. They will conform in colour to
the button of their regiment or corps." Before this time, an
officerís rank was indicated by epaulettes worn on the shoulder.
This regulation also indicated the first use of the arc as part
of the chevron.
Chevrons continued to be worn points downward during the 1800ís.
AGO Order No. 10, dated 9 February 1833, stated "Chevrons will be
worn with the point toward the cuff of the sleeves." Article 1577
of the revised United States Regulations of 1861 stated "The rank
of non-commissioned Officers will be marked by chevrons upon both
sleeves of the uniform coat and overcoat, above the elbow, of
silk worsted binding on-half inch wide, to be the same color as
the edgings of the coat, point down."
Titles of Grade
A general order was issued from Headquarters at Cambridge that
"Sergeants may be distinguished by an Epaulette or stripe of red
cloth, sewed upon the right shoulder; the Corporals by one of
green." The organizational charts indicated the enlisted
personnel consisted mainly of sergeants, corporals, musicians,
By early 1776 an approximately standard Continental Infantry
Regiment had emerged consisting of a headquarters and eight
companies, each company with four sergeants, four corporals, two
drummers or fifers and 76 privates. According to the Journals of
the Continental Congress, later in that year all battalions were
given a non-commissioned headquarters element consisting of a
sergeant-major, a quartermaster sergeant, a drum major and a fife
major, all to be appointed by the regimental commander. This is
the first mention of the rank of sergeant-major.
During this year the military service was expanded to include
sergeants-major, quartermaster sergeants, senior musicians,
sergeants, corporals, farriers, artificers, saddlers, musicians,
trumpeters, dragoons and privates.
Senior musicians disappeared, but principal musicians apparently
took their place; farriers and saddlers titles were united;
sappers and miners appeared; and trumpeters disappeared.
Principal musicians were succeeded by chief musicians; sappers
and miners disappeared; and the titles artificers, saddlers and
blacksmiths were combined.
Principal musicians again appeared while chief musician
disappeared and the designations of farriers and saddlers,
sappers and miners, and a separate title of artificers, were
Enlisted men were designated sergeants-major, teachers of music,
sergeants, corporals, musicians, artificers and privates.
Sergeant-majors, quartermaster sergeants, principal musicians,
sergeants, corporals, musicians, artificers, saddlers, farriers
and privates were the titles of enlisted personnel.
Blacksmiths and drivers of artillery were added to enlisted grade
Designations of enlisted personnel were again simplified to
sergeant-major, quartermaster sergeants, principal musicians,
sergeants, corporals, musicians, artificers and privates.
During this year the designation "enlisted men for ordnance"
The designations of chief bugler, bugler, farrier and blacksmith
were additional titles during the year.
The title "enlisted men for ordnance" was changed to "enlisted
men of ordnance".
The title of principal or chief musician, principal teamster and
teamster were added to the list.
The title of ordnance sergeants came into being.
During the Civil War, many new designations came into being. The
following is a complete list of designations:
leaders of bands;
principal or chief musicians;
regimental hospital stewards;
battalion sergeant majors;
battalion quartermaster sergeants;
battalion hospital stewards;
battalion saddler sergeants;
battalion commissary sergeants;
battalion veterinary sergeants;
company quartermaster sergeants;
farriers and blacksmiths;
enlisted men of ordnance.
The following titles disappeared: leaders of bands; battalion
hospital stewards; chief buglers; medical cadets; battalion
commissary sergeants; battalion saddler sergeants, battalion
veterinary sergeants; buglers; and enlisted men of ordnance. The
following new titles were established:
privates (first class);
and privates (second class).
The title chief musician again appeared and a first sergeant in
the corps of engineers was established.
Post quartermaster sergeants, private hospital corps, general
service clerks and general service messengers were established.
Electrician sergeants, sergeants first class, drum majors, stable
sergeants, mechanics and cooks were established.
The title post commissary sergeant, regimental commissary
sergeant, and color sergeant were established.
The designs and titles varied by branch and there were 45
different insignia descriptions in specification 760, dated 31
May 1905, with different colors for different branches. General
Order No. 169 dated 14 August 1907 created a wide variety of
insignia. Specific pay grades were not yet in use by the Army and
their pay rate was based on title. The pay scale approved in 1908
ranged from $13 for a private in the engineers to $75 for a
Master Signal Electrician. The system identified the job
assignment of the individual, e.g., cooks, mechanics, etc. By the
end of World War I, there were 128 different insignia designs in
the supply system.
Prior to 1919, the insignia of private first class consisted of
the insignia of the branch of service without any arcs or
chevrons. The Secretary of War approved "an arc of one bar" for
privates first class on 22 July 1919.
The number of insignia was reduced to seven and six pay grades
were established. War Department Circular No. 303, dated 5 August
1920, stated the chevrons would be worn on the left sleeve, point
up, and to be made of olive drab material on a background of dark
blue. The designs and titles were as follows:
Master Sergeant (First Grade): Three chevrons, and an arc of
three bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower
Technical Sergeant (Second Grade): Three chevrons, and an arc of
two bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower
First Sergeant (Second Grade): Three chevrons, and an arc of two
bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower chevron. In
the angle between lower chevron and upper bar a lozenge.
Staff Sergeant (Third Grade): Three chevrons and an arc of one
bar, forming a tie to the lower chevron.
Sergeant (Fourth Grade): Three chevrons.
Corporal (Fifth Grade): Two chevrons.
Privates First Class (Sixth Grade): One chevron.
The grades of Technician in the third, fourth and fifth grades
were added by War Department Circular No. 5, dated 8 January
1942. Change 1 to AR 600-35, dated 4 September 1942, added a
letter "T" to the formerly prescribed chevrons for grades three,
four and five.
The first sergeant was moved from the second grade to the first
grade per Change 3, AR 600-35, dated 22 September 1942. This
change described the first sergeantís chevron as – Three
chevrons and arc of three bars, the upper bar of arc forming a
tie to the lower chevron. In the angle between lower chevrons and
upper bar, a hollow lozenge. This change also included the
material as khaki chevrons, arcs, T, and lozenge on dark blue
cotton background or olive-drab wool chevrons, arcs, T, and
lozenge on dark blue wool backgrounds.
Changes made by Department of the Army Circular No. 202, dated 7
July 1948, discontinued the Sergeant 4th grade and recruit was
added as the 7th grade effective 1 August 1948. The new insignia
was smaller (2 inches wide) and the colors changed. Combat
insignia worn by combat personnel were gold color background with
dark blue chevrons, arc and lozenge. Insignia worn by noncombat
personnel were dark blue with gold color chevrons, arcs, and
lozenge. The circular also deleted the Technicians effective 1
The size of the chevrons was changed from 2 inches wide to 3 1/8
inches wide for male personnel per War Department Circular No. 9,
dated 5 February 1951. The pay grades were reversed with Master
Sergeant changing from pay grade 1 to pay grade E7. The insignia
continued to remain two inches wide for female personnel. The
insignia was authorized to be manufactured in one color: a dark
blue background with olive-drab chevrons, arc, and lozenge.
Army Regulation 615-15, dated 2 July 1954, announced a new grade
structure effective 1 March 1955. The new titles were:
E7 Master Sergeant (First Sgt was an occupational title) and
E6 Sergeant 1st Class; Specialist 1st Class
E5 Sergeant; Specialist 2d Class
E4 Corporal; Specialist 3d Class
E3 Private First Class
E2 Private E2
E1 Private E1.
War Department Circular No. 670-3, dated 12 October 1955, stated
the effective date for the above change was 1 July 1955. New
descriptions contained in AR 670-5, dated 20 September 1956,
changed the color of the background to Army Green (the color of
the new uniform) or Army Blue with the chevron, arc, lozenge and
eagle to be gold. There were no changes in the design for NCO and
privates; however, the design for specialists was an embroidered
eagle device on a 2 inch wide background arched at the top and
shaped like an inverted chevron on the bottom with embroidered
arcs as follows:
Master Specialist (E7). Three arcs above the eagle device.
Specialist First Class (E-6). Two arcs above the eagle device.
Specialist Second Class (E-5). One arc above the eagle device.
Specialist Third Class (E-4). Eagle device only.
Grades E8 and E9 were added and restructuring of titles changed
and was announced in DA Message 344303, June 1958. The specialist
insignia was also enlarged for male personnel. The insignia
remained the same size for female personnel. The new regulation,
AR 670-1, dated 28 September 1959, described the insignia as
Sergeant Major E9. Three chevrons above three arcs with a five
pointed star between the chevrons and arcs.
Specialist Nine E9. Three arcs above the eagle device and two
First Sergeant E8. Three chevrons above three arcs with a lozenge
between the chevrons and arcs.
Master Sergeant E8. Three chevrons above three arcs.
Specialist Eight E8. Three arcs above the eagle device and one
Platoon Sgt or Sergeant First Class E7. Three chevrons above two
Specialist Seven E7. Three arcs above the eagle device.
Staff Sergeant E6. Three chevrons above one arc.
Specialist Six E6. Two arcs above the eagle device.
Sergeant E5. Three chevrons.
Specialist Five E5. One arc above the eagle device.
Corporal E4. Two chevrons.
Specialist Four E4. Eagle device only.
Private First Class. One chevron.
Specialists were authorized to continue to wear the smaller
insignia. The chevrons formerly authorized for E5, E6 and E7 were
authorized for continued wear until the individual was promoted
or demoted. They also continued to use the previous title.
The Specialist Eight and Specialist Nine grades were
Subdued black metal insignia was authorized for wear on the
collar of the work uniforms by DA Message 292128Z, December 1967.
A new insignia was authorized by DA Message 865848, 28 May 1968,
for Sergeants Majors assigned at the principal NCO of battalion
and higher. This Command Sergeant Major insignia was the same as
the Sergeant Major insignia except the star was small and a
wreath was placed around the star.
The insignia consisting of a single chevron, which was previously
authorized for private first class, was authorized for Privates
E2. A new insignia was authorized for Private First Class, which
consisted of one chevron above one arc per DA Message 868848, 28
Bright shiny brass metal insignia was authorized for wear on the
overcoat, raincoat, and windbreaker per DA Message 212019,
February 1975.1978. Specialist Seven was discontinued.
In 1979 an insignia of grade was authorized for the Sergeant
Major of the Army. The insignia had three chevrons above three
arcs with two stars centered between the bottom chevron and the
The Chief of Staff approved a recommendation for shoulder marks
for enlisted personnel in the grade of corporal and higher. The
shoulder marks were a yellow embroidered device on a black base
cloth for wear on the green shirts and black sweaters. Privates
and Privates First Class continued to wear the bright metal
insignia on the green shirts.
The grades specialist five and specialist six were discontinued
effective 1 October 1985.
The insignia for Sergeant Major of the Army was changed to add
the Coat of Arms of the United States between the two stars in
the center of the insignia. The pin-on insignia is polished
gold-plated with a black enamel background.
The designation of male and female insignia was discontinued and
the new designations were large and small. The large size
insignia were the same as the previously designated male insignia
and were 3 1/8 inches wide. The small size insignia was 2 5/8
Origin of Officer Ranks
The size of the Army does not permit Army officers in charge of a
large group to know all in their command by their name, nor is it
possible to know all the duties of the various individuals of an
organization if placed in a command, but by means of insignia of
grade anyone trained in military organizations and tactics may
quickly have a title by which he or she may address an individual
and based on the responsibilities commensurate with each grade,
they may issue orders intelligently.
General Washington was chosen by the Continental Congress and was
informed on June 16, 1775 that he was to be general and
commander-in-chief to take supreme command of the forces raised
in defense of American liberty. Just thirty days later, on July
14, 1775, a General Order was issued which read: "To prevent
mistakes, the General Officers and their aides-de-camp will be
distinguished in the following manner: The Commander-in-Chief by
a light blue ribband, worn across his breast, between his coat
and waistcoat; the major and brigadier generals by a pink ribband
worn in a like manner; the Aides-de-Camp by a green ribband."
On July 23, 1775, General Washington states "As the Continental
Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many
inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the
commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some
badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance, that
the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their
hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green."
Our present system of officers' grade insignia began on 18 June
1780 when it was prescribed that Major Generals would wear two
stars and Brigadier Generals one star on each epaulette. In 1832,
the Colonel's eagle was initiated and in 1836, leaves were
adopted for Lieutenant Colonels and Majors, while Captains
received two bars and one bar was prescribed for First
Lieutenant. Second Lieutenants did not receive the gold bar until
Warrant Officers were provided with an insignia of identification
on May 12, 1921, which also served as their insignia of grade. In
1942, Warrant Officers were graded and there were created a Chief
Warrant Officer and a Warrant Officer (Junior Grade), and
separate insignia of grade (gold and brown enamel bars) were
approved June 14, 1942. A grade of Flight Officer came into being
in 1942, and the insignia was prescribed to be identical to
Warrant Officer (Junior Grade) except the enamel was blue instead
Other than the dates of authorization, nothing has been located
as to why the leaf and bar was selected for officer's insignia.
Military routinely incorporate the design representing their
country in their insignia and the eagle with shield, arrows and
olive leaves was taken from the Coat of Arms of the United
Use of Silver and Gold Insignia
The precedence of silver over gold in officer insignia of grade
was not the result of deliberate intent, but arose from the
desire to avoid unnecessary changes. Although the background
discussed below is for Army insignia, the Navy and Marine Corps
metal insignia of grade for officers have paralleled those of the
Army. When the Air Force was established in 1947, it adopted the
officers' insignia of grade already in used by the Army.
Since 1780, when insignia was embroidered on the epaulettes, the
grade of general officers has been denoted by a number of silver
stars. This was the beginning of the present system of officers'
Epaulettes were specified for all officers in 1832; for the
infantry they were silver and all others had gold epaulettes. In
order that the rank insignia would be clearly discernible, they
were of the opposite color; that is, the infantry colonels had an
eagle of gold because it was placed on a silver epaulette and all
other colonels had silver eagles on gold epaulettes. At that time
the only grade insignia were the stars for general officers and
eagles for colonels. Epaulettes for lieutenant colonels, majors,
captains, and lieutenants had no insignia – the length and
size of the fringe showing the difference of grade.
Shoulder straps were adopted to replace the epaulette for field
duty in 1836. The straps followed the same color combination as
the epaulettes; that is, the border was gold with silver insignia
for all officers except those of infantry which had silver border
with gold insignia. At that time majors were authorized leaves;
captains were authorized two bars and first lieutenants were
authorized one bars on the shoulder straps.
In 1851, the colonel's eagle was prescribed in silver only.
Apparently when it was decided to use only one color, the silver
eagle was selected based on the fact that there were more
colonels with the silver eagle that those with gold. At that time
on the shoulder straps, lieutenant colonels wore an embroidered
silver leaf; majors wore a gold embroidered leaf; and captains
and first lieutenants wore gold bars. The second lieutenant had
no grade insignia, but the epaulette or shoulder strap identified
him as a commissioned officer.
In 1872, epaulettes were abolished for officers and replaced by
shoulder knots. As the shoulder knots had no fringe, it was
necessary that some change in the insignia on the dress uniform
be made in order to distinguish the major from the second
lieutenant. It was natural to use the gold leaf which the major
had worn on the shoulder strap for the previous twenty-one years.
In the same year, the bars on the shoulder straps of the captains
and first lieutenants were changed from gold to silver to
correspond with the silver devices of the senior officers.
The service uniform of olive drab gradually came to be used more
frequently and by the time of World War I, the blue uniform was
worn only in the evenings and on dress occasions. As a result,
metal insignia was authorized for wear on the service uniform on
the shoulder loop and on the collar of the shirt when worn
without a jacket. Shortly after the United States entered World
War I, only the service olive drab uniform was being worn. The
need for an insignia for the second lieutenant became urgent.
Among the proposals was one to authorized for that grade one bar,
the first lieutenant two bars, and the captain three bars.
However, the policy of making as little change as possible
prevailed, and a gold bar was adopted in 1917, following the
precedent previously established by the adoption of the major's
Although silver outranks gold insofar as the Armed Forces metal
insignia of grade, gold can be considered as outranking silver in
medals and decorations and their appurtenances. The order of
precedence in establishing medals when using the same design is
gold, silver and bronze.