Big Red One S.S.I.


The shoulder sleeve insignia, or SSI, of the United States Army’s First Infantry Division certainly is not the most exciting patch design of all. But its simple, elegant design is being recognized around the world, and has become a symbol of honor and pride, and has earned its place in American military tradition and history.

Even today, the origins of the Big Red One’s shoulder patch is unknown. However, there are two stories that might explain it. The first story is that during World War I, the 1st Division supply trucks were made by an English manufacturer and to distinguish the 1st Division truck from the British, the men of the division painted a figure “1” on their truck. The second account tells the tail of an old general who decided the Division needed a shoulder sleeve insignia, so he cut out a crute numberal “1” from an old pair of red flanel underwear. A young lieutenant then yelled that the general’s underwear was showing. The general challenged him to come up with something better, and the lieutenant created the first prototype of the patch we know today. The first design of the SSI of the 1st Division was officially approved by telegram on October 31, 1918, from the Adjutant General, Allied Expeditionary Force, to the Commanding General of the 1st Division. It is described as follows:

“A red Arabic number “1” 1 5/8 inches in height, 1/4 inches in breadth.”

Unknown 2
Unknown 2

Front and back of a pre-WWII 1st Inf Div SSI, felt on olive drab wool.

Unknown 2
Unknown 2

Front and back of a pre-WWII 1st Inf Div SSI, partially machine-embroidered on khaki cotton twill base fabric. These patches were also manufactured in the World War II period, however the borders of a pre-WWII era partially machine-embroided khaki cotton patch are much thinner than of their WWII counterparts.

Unknown 2
Unknown 2

The above patch is very nice example of a WWII U.S. made, fully machine-embroidered, cut-edge shoulder sleeve insignia, or SSI, of the 1st Infantry Division with white back thread. The embroidery shows a very regular pattern, with what appear to be parallel diagonal rows sloping to the upper right of the patch. The design’s background feels very even when sliding one’s fingers over it.

REFERENCES

De Bree, H. (2013). World War II U. S. Made, Fully Machine-Embroidered, Cut Edge Shoulder Sleeve Insignia: And How They Were Manufactured, A Collector’s Guide. Schiffer Publishing, Limited.

Keller, K. & Keller, B. (2015) Emblems of Honor, Infantry Divisions, Volume I: 1st – 12th Divisions. Keller & Keller Publishing.

© Copyright 16th Infantry Regiment Historical Society