The rank of Private has existed as long as the United States Army itself, but the next rung on the rank ladder, Private First Class, was not established until Congress passed “An Act for the Organization of a Company of Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers” on May 13, 1846. The act called for the addition of a company to the Corps of Engineers consisting of ten Sergeants (also referred to as “Master Workmen”), ten Corporals (“Overseers”), two Musicians, and “thirty-nine privates of the first class” (“Artificers”), and an equal number of “privates of the second class” (laborers). [Note: The Institute of Heraldry states that these two titles for Privates were established in 1866 but does not cite a source or display a source document.]

Regardless of the date that the title of PFC was officially established, we do know that the rank was originally represented not by a chevron but simply a branch insignia. In 1919, the Secretary of War approved an “arc of one bar”—what we now call a “rocker”—under the branch insignia. The next year (1920), the number of enlisted grades was reduced to a total of seven and PFCs assigned an insignia of a single chevron without a rocker. Nearly seventy years would elapse before the Department of the Army authorized the use of the single chevron for the Private E-2 grade and a rocker was added to the insignia for Private First Class E-3.

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