Believe it or not, the individual most associated with the standardized First Division patch, was likely an arrogant young Lieutenant named Herbert M. Stoops of Battery C, Sixth Field Artillery. In a letter to David W. Davis, Secretary of the Society of the First Division, which was published in the Vol. 6 No. 7 December 1948 issue of the Bridgehead Sentinel he wrote:
Enclosed is a small replica of the old One as first made. It was short and stocky-the width of the figure being determined only by the width of the red stripe around the kraut infantry fatigue cap. When originally submitted, the shield was German field gray. The ONE, bright vermillion red. The powers that were anticipated trouble getting enough grey cloth and substituted O.D. and so it was made.
Having gratuitously stuck my neck out I must have cut a thousand stencils while we sat on our fanny's east of the Rhine in the winter of 1918-1919.
I believe it was the first divisional insignia adopted in the American forces-though British regiments had some insignia for more than a hundred years.
This sort of comes under the heading of “I remember when” – but there has been some ill founded legend out of a little happenstance that was absurdly simple.
The old First had English supply trucks having got themselves into France ahead of Yank supplies- and the drivers painted the figure one on them. This was of great value to the guys trying to get back to their outfits as it helped locate Divisional dumps in the general confusion. Division headquarters decided to use a Divisional insignia and hit on a long red one on the left sleeve running from the shoulder to about the elbow. The colonel of one of the regiment showed up with one of these and I made the mistake of cracking wise about his red under wear showing through the wire rip.
A suggestion from my Battery Commander that I put up a better design or shut up produced the shield. Quantity production by commercial knitting mills wrought the slow change in its appearance and proportion in World War II.
Hope this answers your question.
Legend and lore aside, there are some significant dates and documents that we can refer to On October 20, 1918: The design of the 1st Division insignia is proposed in a memo to the CG H AEF from General Frank Parker, newly appointed Commanding General of the First Division.
In a memo dated October 21, 1918 back to to General Parker, the proposed design was approved. Unfortunately all I have is a very bad copy of this memo, but you see what I mean.
This set in motion a chain of events where we finally have some concrete numbers to go off of regarding what the earliest insignia looked like. It is all described in this memo here:
In a matter of several weeks, we go from a wisecrack about an officer's underwear showing to a legitimate marker for membership in a large fighting unit. Other documents show that the ability of soldiers to in fact wear the insignia on their uniforms was an uphill battle. In Memorandum 195 from the Headquarters of the First Division dated December 5,1918, on the subject of "Irregularities and deficiencies noted by the Division Commander" issue number 14 on the list was: "Division Insignia-Not Yet on sleeves." Although this insignia was an important part of the First Division's identity, clearly there were other issues that needed to be addressed that took priority over this matter.
To learn more about the First Division and its storied past, come on out and visit our museum here in Wheaton, Illinois. And tell them that Herbert Morton Stoops sent you.