Identification Tags ("Dog Tags")

WARNING: The following text is presented for historical information only. DO NOT attempt to follow these instructions, which involve handling hazardous materials.


General Order
No. 294
[Identification Tags ("Dog Tags")]

Navy Department
Washington, D.C., May 12, 1917.

IDENTIFICATION TAGS

1. Upon the receipt of this order steps will immediately be taken to make identification tags for all officers and enlisted men of the United States naval service. Make requisition on the supply officers, New York, for tags and necessary outfit for preparing same.

2. The following instructions will be followed:

The identification tag for officers and enlisted men of the Navy consists of an oval plate of monel metal, 1.25 by 1.50 inch, perforated at one end and suspended from the neck by a monel wire encased in a cotton sleeve.

The tag has on one side the etched finger print of the right index finger. On the other side are to be etched the individual's initials and surname, the month, day, and year of enlistment (expressed in numerals, e.g., 1.5.1916) and the month, day, and year of birth (similarly expressed). This side will also bear the letters U.S.N.; for officers - initials and surname, the rank held, and date of appointment.

The etching of the tag shall be done by such member or members of the Hospital Corps as the medical officer may designate.

The following articles are required:

1. The outfit for making a finger print on paper.
2. A supply of printer's ink thinned to the proper consistency for easy use with an ordinary steel pen. (Dilute with gasoline or turpentine).
3. Gilsonite or powdered asphaltum.
4. Nitric acid (1 part by volume), water (2 parts by volume), in glass dish.
5. Alcohol lamp with good flame or electric stove.
6. A device for holding the tag without touching the flat surfaces (not supplied but can be made by any carpenter's mate.)

The steps in the preparation of the etchings are as follows:

After collecting the various articles described above, take an ordinary "rolled" (see Manual for Medical Department - "Identification records and finger prints") finger print on paper to show that the finger is clean, not too heavily inked, etc., and will make a good print, and write down on paper the data for the other side - initials, surname and dates required. Make a "rolled" finger print (right index finger) on the metal tag in the usual manner. Holding the tag by the edge (by
improvised holder), turn it over and write on the other side with a clean steel pen (in printer's ink that has been thinned out with turpentine or gasoline) the initials and surname, the date of enlistment and of birth (using figures), and the letters U.S.N. on the left end of the oval.

While ink is still fresh on both surfaces sprinkle them with finely powdered asphaltum. Some of this will mix with the ink and stick to the two surfaces. The rest should be blown off. Now heat the tag slightly above the boiling point of water. Allow the tag to cool. Put it in the nitric-acid solution for one hour. Remove, wash in water, and dry.

Great care is to be exercised in the preparation of the tags so as to avoid useless expense for tags spoiled in the process.

The following cautions are to be noted:

Remove all excess of ink from the finger, leaving a smooth, uniform coating. Press the finger lightly against the metal tag, avoiding too great pressure, as this will smear the impression.

If the first impression with ink is not satisfactory, make it again on a fresh tag. Tags that have been soiled with printer's ink can be used again after thorough cleansing with gasoline. The cleansing must be thorough, as the least trace of ink left on the tag from a previous attempt will spoil the etching. (It is well to put aside the tags on which poor printing has been done and clean them up all at one time for use.)

In inscribing the name use a blunt pen and diluted printer's ink. The ink can be thinned with gasoline or turpentine. Turpentine is preferable, as it does not dry so quickly, and the next step must be carried out with both sides of the tag wet. Have the initials, surname, and dates written out on paper in advance so they can be quickly inscribed on the tag without having to delay by questioning the person for whom the tag is being prepared.

The ink should be just thin enough to write with. If it spreads on the metal it is too thin; if too thick it will not flow from the point of the pen.

Be careful not to smudge the finger print while writing name.

The next step is the application of the gilsonite or asphaltum. This should be fine enough to pass through a sieve having 100 meshes to the square inch. Sprinkle thickly on the two wet surfaces. Remove what does not mix with and stick to the ink by tapping and blowing.

The tag is now held with forceps over a flame or stove until the ink and asphaltum have melted together, forming sharp, glossy black lines.

If not enough heat is applied to completely melt the asphaltum, the action of the acid will be too powerful. Complete melting of the asphaltum is indicated by the lines becoming glossy. If too much heat is applied, the lines run together and are obliterated.

The etching solution consists of -

Concentrated nitric acid-------1 part by volume
Water-------------------------2 parts by volume

The solution may be placed in glass, china, or enameled iron ware (if there are no nicks or cracks). A number of tags can be etched at once, but do not pile them one on top of the other. The name side should be up and the finger-print side down while in the acid bath. This will favor deeper etching on the name side, which is desirable, as it will then not wear off so rapidly.

The etching process or acid bath should be watched and a tag lifted out from time to time to see how lively the action is. It can be moderated by adding water. Usually the process of etching requires one hour. The acid solution naturally weakens with use and should be renewed from time to time. If the corrosive action is slow in beginning, concentrated muriatic acid (HCl) may be added - 1 part to every 30 of the nitric solution.

The data desired are put on thus:

 U.S.N.[*]  Frank W.
Williamson.
4. 14. 16------------(First enlistment).
2. 21. 85------------(Date of birth).

[*Editor's Note: This text was placed at a 90 degree angle to the text.]

In the case of officers it will be necessary, when making the tags, to make also the usual finger prints on paper (as required for enlisted men) and to send them to Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Washington, D.C., for filing.

Enter on the blank, full name of officer, the rank held, and date of appointment.

Josephus Daniels,
Secretary of the Navy.


Source: General Orders of Navy Department, Series of 1913. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1918.