American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham c. 2010

Dating U.S. Navy Rating Badges

Third Class Petty Officer Radioman
World War Two Era

Dating U.S. Navy rating badges to period can be a challenge. The design and manufacture style did slowly evolve since their original creation in 1841. Those predating World War Two are fairly uncommon. Each of the various specialty devices appearing on the rating badge were used for defined periods and their appearance on a badge is an aid to dating. For example, the specialty of Guided Missileman was established in 1955 and the appearance of this device on a rating badge alone is enough to say it is not a World War Two badge. Dating bullion rating badges is very difficult and I should mention that in 1942 the manufacture of silver and gold bullion embroidered rating badges was suspended for the duration of the Second World War. John A. Stacey's book U.S. Navy Rating Badges, Specialty Marks, Distinguishing Marks is a useful guide to the various marks and contains a detailed discussion of the history of rating badges and techniques of dating them.

19th Century Rating Badges

petty officer
c1866 Rating Pattern Piece
Petty Officer rating badges were first approved in 1841. The idea of an insignia was borrowed from the British Navy. The design of insignia was an eagle perched on a fouled anchor and surmounted by a five-pointed star, having a point pointed toward the eagle's head. This design was similar to that used on U.S. Navy buttons at the time. This badge was white on blue uniforms and blue on white uniforms. The device might be worn on either sleeve half way between the elbow and shoulder, depending upon the petty officer's specialty. The original badges themselves were identical for all specialties and it was not until 1866 that some badges specific to certain specialties in addition to the above one were introduced. In 1886 chevrons were first introduced and various grades of Petty Officers were recognized. In 1894 the eagle wings were changed so that they point upwards rather than horizontal. Prior to 1913 rating badges were worn on the either sleeve according to the sailor's assigned watch. After 1913 they were worn on the right arm if a member of the seaman branch and the left if artificer branch, etc. Nineteenth Century seamen were supposed to be handy with a needle and tread and were to hand embroider their own badges. To allow for some uniformity pattern pieces were issued as appears above. By the late 1800s the Navy issued professionally manufactured rating badges.

Pre-1941 Rating Badges


Coxswain 3rd Class
Shield Shaped

Yeoman Chief Petty Officer

Pre-1941 rating badges are often cut into shield or other odd shapes. The eagle leans to the side.

1941 Rating Badges

1942 front 1942 back
Petty Officer First Class
Gunner's Mate front
back showing 1942 date

World War Two period rating badges have an upright eagle. The outside cut of the rating is of a uniform shape. Many of them bear a date of manufacture. These dates disappear in the late 1940s. The grade stripes are separate pieces of cloth sewn on the badge. During the war smaller rating badges were approved for female personnel.

Post Second World War Rating Badges

front back
Quartermaster Petty
Officer First Class (Front)
Directly Machine
Embroidred Stripe (Back)
Crypto Tech
Cryptologic Technician
Master Chief Petty Officer

After the Second World the manufacture slowly changed. Badges with grade stripes were embroidered directly on the badges rather than being a separate piece of cloth sewn on became the norm. There were some of this type manufactured as early as the Second World War, but they are uncommon. The cloth used was sometimes synthetic material. During the late 1940s two piece badges were used with the upper part being the eagle and specialty mark and the lower the stripes. The number of Petty Officer pay grades were expanded and new badges with stars above the eagle were created for them.

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