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Old Corps Enlisted Rank
1798 -- 1958

Except as otherwise indicated, the following information is  from, Enlisted Rank Insignia In The U.S. Marine Corps 1798--1958*,
by Michael O'Quinlivan, Historical Branch, G-3
Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps
Washington, D.C.
June 1959
*Note: There is no information available on rank insignia as worn by the Continental Marines.
When the Marine Corps was re-established by Congress in July 1798, noncommissioned rank was indicated by means of silk epaulettes--sergeants wore one on each shoulder and corporals one on the left shoulder. In 1804, the epaulettes were replaced by yellow silk shoulder knots for sergeants and corporals.
A further mark of rank was accorded to the sergeant a year later in allowing him a leather cockade similar to that worn by other enlisted men with which to fasten the plume to the hat. As an additional distinction, the sergeant wore his plume on the left side of the hat whereas other enlisted men wore their plumes on the front of the hat.
The shoulder knots as insignia of rank for sergeants and corporals with the addition of the plume for sergeants continued in effect until 1833. In that year, the symbol of noncommissioned rank on the dress uniform was displayed by four buttons for the sergeant major and quartermaster sergeant, three buttons for other sergeants and two buttons for corporals and privates. In addition, worsted yellowfringes on their shoulder wings, which were, in effect, modified epaulettes, were prescribed for all noncommissioned officers. The year 1833 marked the debut of the chevron on the enlisted Marine uniform. This familiar symbol of noncommissioned rank originally appeared in the Marine Corps in the form of "angles" worn point -down on the lower coat sleeves of first and second lieutenants. The chevron was dropped from thw subaltern's uniform in 1833 and taken up on the enlisted as a symbol of length of service, one chevron worn point-up above the elbow for each four year's service. The equally familiar "hash-mark," which in later years was to be used as the service stripe in the Marine Corps, also made its first appearance on the enlisted uniform in 1833, but, ironically as an insignia of rank on the fatigue uniform -- sergeants and corporals wore two stripes and one stripe respectively below the elbow.
The designations prevailed until 1859. The uniform regulations issued in that year are of great historical significance with regard to noncommissioned rank symbols, since they set the pattern which has generally prevailed until the present. In 1859, variations of the "point-up" yellow lace chevron, 1/2 inch wide, extending from seam to seam on the sleeve, were established as the mark of the noncommissioned officer. For the sergeant major, there were three chevrons and three arcs on a scarlet ground; for the quartermaster sergeant, three chevrons and three bars on a scarlet ground; for the drum major, three chevrons and three bars on a scarlet round with a five-pointed star in the center; for the first sergeant, a detached lozenge in the angle of three chevrons; for other sergeants, three chevrons, and for the corporal, two chevrons, all edged in red.
Except for the insertion of new ranks and the intrpduction of field service insignia, the regulations of 1859 remained virtually unchanged until World War I and the adoption of the smaller chevron. The first mention of field service insignia on Marine uniforms occurred in the regulations of 1900, although these insignia had been used by Marines in the field during the Spanish war. In their earliest form these service insignia consisted of the regulation chevrons in gray linen braid worn on "summer undress and campaign coats.

A new rank, dating from the time of the Spanish war, also appeared in the 1900 regulations -- the gunnery sergeant. The original insigne prescribed for the gunnery sergeant was to be of short life and in appearance was unique among Marine insignia. The design prescribed for gunnery sergeant consisted of three chevrons and three bars with the "device of the school of application" -- a crossed rifle and naval gun behind a globe, anchor and eagle -- in the center. (Click Here!) This insigne gave way in the next revision of the regulations, in 1904, to the design by which the gunnery sergeant was to be traditionally known, the bursting bomb and crossed rifles on a scarlet field set in the angle of three chevrons. (Click Here!)
The next rank to be recognized by a distinctive insigne was that of quartermaster sergeants detailed for service in the Paymaster's Department who were accorded in 1908 a device representing a pile of gold coins crossed by a quill to be worn in the center of the quartermaster sergeant's insignia. The 1908 regulations also prescribed distinguishing devices for drummers and trumpeters. Drummers were to wear on both sleeves a pair of crossed drumsticks and trumpeters a trumpet on a dark blue ground. A further change in field service insignia was also made in 1908 when olive drab made its debut in Marine insignia as the color for chevrons when worn on khaki uniforms.
The next major revision of the uniform of the Marine Corps came in 1912. While continuing the basic configuration of enlisted rank insignia, the modification, nevertheless, must be ranked with the regulations of 1859 in establishing precedents which have prevailed to the present day. Basic among innovations in the 1912 regulations which made other changes necessry was the adoption of the now-traditional :Marine green" winter field service uniform. Having made this radical departure from the old blue uniform which was used both for dress and winter service, rank insignia of a new shape and color were prescribed. Prior to 1912, insignia worn on field uniforms were exactly the same as that for dress uniforms except for material and color. The new regulations called for a reduction in width of the chevrons, arcs and bars from 1/2 to 3/8 of an inch as well as a new design very similar to the dress and service chevrons worn at the present time. Along with the adoption of the green winter service uniform the colors of green on a scarlet backing for noncom chevrons were also adopted in 1912. Although the size and shape of the old gold on scarlet dress chevrons remained unchanged in 1912, the die had been case, and by the next complete revision of the uniform regulations ten years later, the graceful broad dress chevron would be cut down and re-designed to conform to the service chevron. Apart from these basic innovations, the 1912 regulations made few changes in the basic symbols of noncommissioned rank.
For the first time an insigne for lance corporal was prescribed -- one chevron to be worn on the right sleeve. The next significant revision of enlisted rank insignia came in 1922 with the adoption of dress insignia of the same pattern as the service insignia in augurated in 1912. Gold on scarlet, the traditional colors of the dress insignia remained unchanged, but the dark green on khaki colors for summer service uniforms repaced the old olive drab on khaki which had been in use since 1908. An unusual badge consisting of crossed rifles on a dark blue ground was adopted for the rank of private first class. The rank of staff sergeant came into existence too late to be recognized in the basic regulations of 1922. An insigne for this rank was prescribed in 1924 to consist of three chevrons and one arc.
Addition of several new ranks of noncommissioned officer in the mid-twenties produced many changes in insignia  which were reflected in the Uniform Regulations of 1929. The most significant changes were made in the insignia of the quartermaster sergeant which had until then remained vitually the same as the design adopted in 1859. The familiar three chevrons and three bars which had traditionally marked the quartermaster sergeant were given to the newly created rank of master technical sergeant. Three chevrons and three bars with a wheel in the center became the new insigne of the quartermaster sergeant, while three chevrons and three bars with a shield in the center became the insigne of quartermaster sergeants assigned to duty in the Adjutant and Inspector's Department. The insigne adopted in 1908 for quartermaster sergeants detailed for service in the Paymaster's Department -- three chevrons consisting of a quill superimposed upon a pile of gold coins -- was formally assigned in 1929 to the newly created rank of paymaster sergeant. Another entirely new insigne appearing in 1929 was that of supply sergeant -- three chevrons and two bars with a wheel in the center. The 1929 regulations altered the insignia of the first sergeant and the gunnery sergeant by the addition of two arcs to each while that of the drum major, which had consisted of three chevrons and three bars with a star in the center since 1859, was changed by the removal of one bar. The one-chevron insigne of the lance corporal was re-assigned to the private first class.
Between 1934 and 1937 there was a multiplicity of ranks and titles. Certain short-lived insignia were prescribed for some of these, but the system was obviously becoming so complicated that a halt had to be called somewhere. The next issuance of uniform regulations for the Marine Corps stressed simplicity rather than attempt to establish individual symbols for each enlisted title. Thus, in 1937, enlisted rank insignia was set up according to pay grade. Three basic types of insignia were prescribed: plain chevrons, chevrons with bars and chevrons with arcs. Here was provided for the first time a clearcut distinction between line and staff. The allocation of these new simplified insignia was as follows:
First Grade, Line (three chevrons and three arcs):
sergeants major
master gunnery sergeants
First Grade, Staff (three chevrons and three bars):
master technical sergeants
master technical sergeants (mess)
quartermaster sergeants
paymaster sergeants
Second Grade, Line (three chevrons and two arcs):
first sergeants
gunnery sergeants
Second Grade, Staff (three chevrons and two bars):
technical sergeants
technical sergeants (Paymaster's Department)
technical sergeants (mess)
drum majors
supply sergeants
Third Grade, Line (three chevrons and one arc):
platoon sergeants
Third Grade, Staff (three chevrons and one bar):
staff sergeants (clerical)
staff sergeants (mechanical)
staff sergeants (mess)
Fourth Grade (three chevrons):
mess sergeants
chief cooks
drum sergeants
trumpet sergeants
Fifth Grade (two chevrons):
mess corporals
field cooks
drum corporals
trumpet corporals
Sixth Grade (one chevron):
privates 1st class
assistant cooks
drummers 1st class
trumpeters 1st class
The system of assigning insignia by pay grade rather than by rank or title remained in effect througout World War II. Although there were changes within the structure during the war -- for example, the first sergeant went up to the first pay grade in 1943 -- and new titles were added -- for example, stewards and steward's assistants, -- the insignia remained constant.
(Click Here)

A complete revamping of the rank structure took place in the latter part of 1946 whereby the supernumery titles within pay grades were pared down to one per grade. This reorganization had little effect upon the insignia system established in 1937, except for the removal of the bars from the old style "square" chevron, which had come to be identified with staff or technical ranks. Thus, was established the basic system of insignia in use at the present time:
First Grade (three chevrons and three arcs):
master sergeant
Second Grade (three chevrons and two arcs):
technical sergeant
Third Grade (three chevrons and one arc):
staff sergeant
Fourth Grade (three chevrons):
Fifth Grade (two chevrons):
Sixth Grade (one chevron):
private first class
Between 1946 and the present only three important changes occurred in the history of  Marine rank insignia. In December 1954, insignia were approved for the newly revived ranks of sergeant major and first sergeant -- three chevrons and three arcs with a star and a lozenge in the center, respectively.
At the same time the size of the stripe in the chevron returned to its World War I width of 1/2 inch instead of the then current 3/8 inch width. Approval was also given for the use of metal chevrons to be worn as symbols of rank on the collar of the utility uniform replacing the procedure of painting rank insignia on the sleeves which had grown up in World War II.
Note: To view the Enlisted Rank Structure of 1959--Present, CLickHere!

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