The system of using a combination of chevrons and specialty marks to denote the paygrade (rate) and profession (rating) of Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers was first implemented in 1886. This new system retained the image of an eagle that had been used for several decades before that time, but added chevrons to denote the rate and a mark that indicated the Sailor’s specialty. There were no official Chief Petty Officers at the time, and the only distinguishing feature between a first class and second class petty officer was a lozenge above the chevrons on the insignia of the first class Sailor.
When the rate of Chief Petty Officer was officially established in 1893, it led to the creation of new uniform regulations. CPOs were to wear three chevrons topped with three—yes, three—rockers, with their specialty mark displayed in the area between the two; first class petty officers had three chevrons with no rockers, but a lozenge over which their rating mark was superimposed; second class had the same design as first class minus the lozenge; and third class petty officers had two chevrons and the specialty mark.
This system didn’t last very long, and was replaced with the system that largely forms the basis for today’s much simpler rating/rate display system. The rating badge you see here is suitable for all petty officers from third to first class. For a first class petty officer (one chevron), simply fold the two outermost chevrons underneath before sewing the badge onto your Dress Blue uniform. When you reach the E5 paygrade of Second Class Petty Officer, fold the badge out enough so that an additional chevron is visible.