Gold vs Silver - Officer rank question


March 23, 2003, 03:00 AM
I believe gold has always been worth more than silver so I have never understood why a new 2nd Lieutenant bar was gold and then graduated to silver on promotion to 1st Lieutenant. The same illogic for a Major's gold cloverleaf to a Lt. Colonels silver cloverleaf.......

Kim Komando, the "digital goddess" published a website that explains rank diferences at but it does not answer the gold vs silver question...... anyone up to it?

<added> p.s. this question also asked of R. Lee Ermery of History channel's "MAIL CALL".......

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Ohen Cepel
March 23, 2003, 04:36 AM
Gold is softer?

Not sure really.

March 23, 2003, 04:52 AM
the best I've heard is that gold is more malleable and more easily formed and shaped than silver. more "pure" (inexperienced, naive), too (not *really*, but in lore. doesn't tarnish, so sorta fits the "pure" thing). also might have something to do with value ... younger officers have more "potential" than older ones, because they can learn from the older ones and have their *entire* career ahead of them (of course, older officers have lots of potential too, they just have a lot of their career behind them).

this of course, came from a joke I heard (I won't bother to post it here, but it might show up later in the thread if insisted), so make sure there's a grain of salt with your food today.

hope that helps ...

March 23, 2003, 06:50 AM
i was initially surprised that silver outranks gold too, but never knew why. FYI those are OAK leaves not cloverleafs and the junk on the big heads hat brims is clusterd oak leaves and acorns, not "scrambled eggs"


March 23, 2003, 07:33 AM
I'm not positive, but I believe that the gold-looking devices were originally brass (hence the nickname for officers as "brass"). Silver is then more valuable than the brass devices.

March 23, 2003, 08:02 AM
the wrong way, and the NAVY way. Everyone else does it that way because the NAVY does it that way. It's not 2LT vs LT, MAJ vs LCOL...

It's ENS vs LT, LCDR vs CDR. It's the NAVY way, that's all there is to it!

Another NAVY rule: If it's not nailed down, steal it. If it's nailed down, paint it.

March 23, 2003, 08:40 AM
Most police departments do it the other way around. Silver shields then gold. I don't think there is any rhyme or reason but i do like voilsb's explanation.


March 23, 2003, 09:44 AM
Here is the history:

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.

March 23, 2003, 02:16 PM
well, you learn something new every day. neato.

March 23, 2003, 02:29 PM
yes, there IS the right way, wrong way and navy way, funny i had forgotten that. but i believ the motto i remember is:

" If it works, don't F*** with it and if it doesn't work, paint it."


March 23, 2003, 02:52 PM
:D wow... a *** 3-star answer from bad_dad_brad!!! A thank you to all that replied and a psst to voilsb, I vote to hear the joke.....:what:

March 23, 2003, 05:21 PM
Can't take any real credit QuickClik, other than web research (Google).

That is a US Army Personnel site that had the history, and an interesting history at that.

March 23, 2003, 05:44 PM
Dang squids,,,it takes a Jarhead to set it straight............
You don't steal,,,,,, you LIBERATE!!!!!
SEMPER FI and anchors away

:evil: :evil: :evil:

Mike Irwin
March 23, 2003, 08:13 PM
Uh, maybe because a Lieutenant General is higher in rank than a Major General?

What whatever happened to a Colonel General? :)

Navy joe
March 23, 2003, 08:23 PM
Actually the navy way is ENS vs LTJG. The prevailing theory of naval supply is "well if they really wanted that they woulda locked it up." As a homage to old In Living Color skits I always referred to it as the hangar bay shopping network while aboard carriers. I had absolutely no guilt about attaining whatever my shop needed from this supply channel. Not my fault some reactor troll was too lazy to put away their stuff that day. Anything they can stencil I can stencil better.

The crap on the hat is also known as fretting. O-5 and above.

Naval Preventative Maintenance philosophy. If it ain't broke, fix it 'til it is.

March 24, 2003, 01:24 AM
As a retired mustang Naval officer, I can also add that the Navy rank of Ensign was given to us by the Army.

And they do still use the rank of Colonel General - in the Iraqi Army!

March 24, 2003, 01:37 AM
what was the rank Hawkeye introduced Radar as to be in the Officer's Club after they picked up BJ? Corporal Captain or Captain Corporal?

:D great idea for a new thread - I'll start off a Mash Trivia with this one.... look for it!!! :evil:

March 24, 2003, 10:29 AM
Asked and answered -- BadDadBrad, thanks for the good info.

I'm going to close this as it really isn't gun related. We are not, after all, discussing what weapons are issued to officers as opposed to enlisted folks.

Of course, it is about the military and the military is about guns, so....

Naw, too much of a stretch.


If you have the choice between humble and cocky, go with cocky. There's always time to be humble later, once you've been proven horrendously,irrevocably wrong. -- Kinky Friedman

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