U.S. Army Officer Rank Insignia
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First Lieutenant (1LT) O2

First Lieutenant (1LT)

1. General Washington’s order of July 23, 1775, stated: ''… that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green.'' During this time frame, subalterns included lieutenants, coronets, and ensigns. Coronets and ensigns were abolished in 1800 and the grade of second lieutenant was established.

2. An order issued by General Washington on June 18, 1780 stated that captains would wear the uniform of their regiments and an epaulette (gold) on the right shoulder. The subalterns would wear the uniform of their regiment and an epaulette (gold) on the left shoulder. A change was made in 1802 when the epaulettes for all infantry officers was changed from gold to silver.

3. The uniform regulation for the Army in March 27, 1821 discontinued the use of the cockades but adopted chevrons for captains and lieutenants. Captains were directed to wear a gold or silver lace chevron, point upward, one half inch wide, above the elbow, and lieutenants a gold or silver lace chevron below the elbow.

4. In 1836, two bars for captains were established and one bar for the first lieutenants. The specific color of the bars were either gold or silver depending on the color of the border of the shoulder straps which were also adopted in 1836. The border of the shoulder straps was of gold or silver, according to the branch of service. In 1851, the silver border used by infantry was abolished and all borders became gold. The insignia for captains and lieutenants remained gold, except there was no insignia for second lieutenants and none was worn on the shoulder strap. In 1872 epaulettes were abolished and shoulder knots substituted. In the same year, bars of captains and lieutenants changed from gold to silver to correspond with insignia of seniors. Second lieutenants continued to have no insignia until a gold bar was adopted in December 1917.

Use of Gold & Silver

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’ grade insignia.

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 insignia.

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.

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