In 1782, the Continental Congress took a cost cutting measure preventing the awarding of rank for valorous service. Up until this time, individual achievements in battle were generally awarded with a promotion. In response, 2 military awards were created for servicemen. The first award authorized a chevron to be worn on the left sleeve for every 3 years of service given to the Continental Army. These chevrons are still in use today in all branches of the military on dress uniforms.
On August 7, 1782 in Newburgh, NY General George Washington commissioned the first badge of honor for valorous action in battle. I was designed by M. Pierre Charles L'Enfant who later designed the Nation's Capital City, Washington, DC. It was a piece of heart shaped purple cloth most often made of silk or cotton. It was edged in very narrow lace and contained white embroidery. The center featured a single word, "Merit". It was awarded for "any singularly meritorious action" and was named the Badge of Military Merit. This was the first time enlisted and non-commissioned officers could earn a badge of distinction.
Awards for service to any person serving in the military for valor disappeared after the American Revolution until the Civil War when the Medal of Honor was created.
On January 7, 1931 a new award was to be created in honor of the bicentennial of President George Washington's birth. Ms. Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quarter designed a sketch based on Washington's Badge of Military Merit. It consisted of an enameled heart of purple edged in gold. George Washington's profile is in the center of the medal and it hangs from a purple ribbon edged in white. The back of the medal says "For Military Merit" and is usually engraved with the soldier's rank, name, and service branch.
Officially authorized on February 22, 1932 by President Herbert Hoover, the following General Order was issued:
"By order of the President of the United States, The Purple Heart established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the war of the Revolution, is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements.
The decoration is authorized to be awarded to persons who, while serving in the army of the United States, perform any singularly Meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service. A wound received in action may be construed as resulting from such an act."
It is one of the most recognized military medals in the world and is frequently considered to be one of the most beautiful.
For more information on the Purple Heart and the Badge of Military Merit, visit: