A History of Pin Badges

Posted by Make Badges on 17th Nov 2014

Pin badges are a staple part of most of our childhoods. We collect them in their many guises, covering topics that range far and wide. From movies to food branding, animals to travel souvenirs – the possibilities are endless. Showing them off on our school backpacks and swapping them with friends is a fun activity reserved for lunchtime in the schoolyard.

But have you ever given much thought to pin badges’ origins?

If you haven’t, you’re not alone. And we don’t blame you! However, the history of pin badges is super interesting, and we want to share our excitement and love for custom-made badges with you. That’s why we’ve written this article on the origin story of pin badges and just how far they’ve come! Keep reading to get your educational fix on badge-y goodness.

What is a Badge?

A badge is something that symbolises accomplishment, recognition, or an affiliation. It can be anything from a piece of metal with the name of a club or organisation to a digital image that demonstrates a specific skill set or level of expertise.

Badges have been around for centuries, however these days, they are becoming more popular than ever. With the use of badges, everyone is able to demonstrate their skills, accomplishments, and knowledge -from students and employees to athletes and even everyday people! Some of the common badges used include pin badges and magnet fastener badges.

Although badges are often used to recognise an individual’s great achievements in their career, studies or something else, this isn’t all they are used for. They’re also a unique way to express your personality and individuality! Not only do they make a statement that drives conversations, but badges also display your personal interests or motivation.

By proudly displaying your badges, you can demonstrate your accomplishments and awesomeness, creating an atmosphere of respect and admiration from those around you. Badges not only let you show off the things you care about but are also a great fashion accessory to help complete any look: subtle yet bold enough to make your outfit stand out from the rest. There's no doubt that wearing badges is a great way to express yourself, unifying us in the things we believe in daily.

When Were Badges Invented and for What Purpose?

The first patent for a pin badge came from the great era of innovation, the end of the nineteenth century. In 1896, an American man, John Wesley Hyatt, patented a method of covering billiard balls with collodion, a product of his experiments with cellulose nitrate. This plastic-like coating was the world’s first synthetic plastic and his brother, Isaiah, dubbed the material ‘celluloid’ in 1872.

Thin sheets of celluloid were laid over paper to give them the impression of enamel, without the costs or skill set required to produce enamel badges. Prior to the advent of pin badges, or button badges as they are known in some countries, medallions and pendants were the badges of the day. With the new celluloid system, it meant using less metal and eliminated the need for screwing or soldering. The celluloid sheet was laid over the paper design and pressed onto a metal shell. A metal ring was attached to the rear to hold it all in place and a pin was clipped to the back for securing to clothing.

Patents for these badges were taken out in 1894 and again in 1896 by Benjamin Whitehead. His company, Whitehead & Hoag Ltd of Newark, New Jersey, listed the patent for a ‘Badge Pin or button’, which used a metal pin attached to the rear of the badge. The celluloid protected the design and the pin badge was born. In 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee all over the world. Mass produced souvenirs like commemorative pin badges were mass produced and distributed accordingly. They were a massive success and have been popular ever since.

Whitehead & Hoag turned out millions of badges in the first half of the twentieth century, not only for the American market but for export as well. Badges were used to promote patriotism for the Boer War (1899-1902) and found popularity during Ghandi’s campaign for Indian independence in 1907. These ‘Mutiny Buttons’ were often seen on the streets of London.

Although plastic versions are readily available, metal ones, like the ones we lovingly produce at, are still the ones to have. They haven’t changed much since their inception except we use plastic acetate instead of celluloid sheets.

The modern popularity of pin badges stems from the 60’s and 70’s. Students, hippies and musicians were never seen without multitudes of badges, espousing the benefits of ‘Free Love’ and ‘Rock & Roll’. John Lennon was a known badge maker, and along with other outspoken musicians like the Sex Pistols, made badges cool to wear. From ‘Ban the Bomb’ to ‘Free Love’ and ‘I’m with stupid!’ badges have charted social trends and causes throughout modern history and will be with us for many years to come.

What Are Badges Used For Now?

Badges are more fashionable than ever, and serve a much larger purpose than denoting an accomplishment or awarding recognition. Nowadays, they can be spotted for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To represent a person's professional occupation
  • To display an individual’s membership in an organisation
  • Identify which retail businesses visitors are often shopping at
  • Indicate preferences for specific types of products
  • Present to crowds at an event staff member who can be approached for assistance and asked questions

The options are literally endless! Additionally, badges come in all shapes, sizes and colours, so that branding opportunities for businesses or schools can easily be integrated into any type of uniform or accessory. Put simply: badges have become an essential part of everyday life for both professional and leisure purposes.

Now that you know all about the history of pin badges, it’s time to start creating your very own custom made badges! Read our article on creating badges with Canva or watch our video tutorials for a follow-along guide.

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