A few weeks ago, I saw the Hat in the Ring insignia on a box of children’s toys. I’m not sure what the connection is, but I think there must have been one, because the Hat-in-the-Ring insignia has too much history to be used casually. However, it seems to be mostly unknown today.
I myself learned its history from visiting the Vintage Aero Flying Museum, which exists to honor the Lafayette Escadrille, the US contribution to WWI air warfare before the US “threw its hat in the ring”. Eddie Rickenbacker commanded the squadron in WWI, and was instrumental in getting the old insignia back in WWII. Here’s how it came about:
Surely now we would be the first American squadron to go into action against the enemy.
The honor deserved a distinctive insignia. One of the pilots, Lieutenant Johnny Wentworth, was an architect, and he was asked to design it. We all threw out ideas. Major Huffer, the CO, suggested Uncle Sam’s stovepipe hat with the stars and stripes for a hatband. Our flight surgeon, Lieutenant Walters from Pittsburgh, mentioned the old American custom of throwing a hat into the ring as an invitation to battle. And thus one of the world’s most famous military insignia, the Hat-in-the-Ring, which became a part of my entire life from then on, was born.
- Edward V. Rickenbacker, Rickenbacker: An Autobiography(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1967), 122