DEARBORN - For most of us, our employee identification badge is not something we would think of as a collectable item. Today, the plastic cards bearing a bar code and token awkward photo don’t cross our minds too often, unless we somehow make it to work without them, in which case we get to spend quality time getting to know the security team. But, not too long ago these badges were stamped into stainless steel or brass often with the logo or symbol of the specific plant you worked in. If you moved from plant to plant or switched job titles during your Ford career, you likely earned yourself your own little menagerie of badges each with its own character and sentimental attachment.
Tim O’Callaghan, a retired Ford executive, collector of and dealer in Ford literature and memorabilia and a (former) volunteer at the Research center of the Henry Ford Museum, once wrote about the history of employee badges in a 1998 issue of The Way of the Zephyr, a Lincoln magazine.
According to O’Callaghan, the first recorded badge was noted in the March 1912 issue of Ford Times and included a winged pyramid stamped onto a brass oval. This badge was used through February 1916.
The second badge was stamped into German silver and featured the front view of a Model T. These badges were used in the Highland Park plant from 1915-1927. The letters on each badge signified which department within the plant the employee worked in and the numerals, as with most badges, simply referred to the employee number. Over the years, there were many different employee badge designs utilized.
One particularly unique badge was the one used in the first Lincoln plant. Prior to Ford’s takeover of Lincoln, employees were each issued a badge with Abraham Lincoln’s portrait surrounded by a laurel wreath. The employee number was located underneath this image.
As with employee badges today, the rule was badges were to be worn on the outside of the employees clothing at all times, however, early photos show this rule was not strictly enforced at first.
According to O’Callighan, Ford eliminated metal badges for salaried employees in 1947 when the company switched to using plastic cards. Hourly employees continued to receive the stamped metal versions until January 1966 when they too switched over to plastic cards.