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News » A Complete History of Marking and Engraving

A Complete History of Marking and Engraving


June 19, 2017


Today, SCHMIDT has a comprehensive range of marking systems that provide permanent identification and traceability for a large variety of parts and products. But the concept of marking itself is not new. In fact, it goes way back to prehistoric times.

It all began in 500,000(ish) BC

The first evidence of engraving patterns is a chiseled shell from Indonesia, dating back 430,000 to 540,000 years! Engraving on bone and ivory evolved from there, and larger images engraved on rocks can be found from many prehistoric cultures around the world. Using a stylus to mark an object was first used by the ancient Mesopotamians in order to write in cuneiform on clay tablets around 3,100 BC. We still use stylus marking today.

Around 1,000 BC, the first shallow grooves were made in metal to decorate simple jewelry. By 500-1500 A.D., metalworking was common among European goldsmiths. The traditional “hand push” process used then is still practiced today, mainly by artists.

The oldest known use of marking for consumer protection was the control of precious metals by means of inspection stamps (hallmarks), applied with a hammer and punch. The use of hallmarks has a long history dating back to silver bars marked around 350 AD. Modern hallmarking in Europe appeared first in France, with the Goldsmiths Statute of 1260 AD.

The Jump to Steel

The next jump was to engraving on steel or steel-faced plates, which was mostly used for banknotes, illustrations for books, letterheads and similar uses from about 1790 to the early 20th century.

During the Industrial Revolution, the transition began from hand to mechanical stamping, with steam-powered presses becoming the modern equivalent of a hammer and anvil.

In 1870, the Prussian Army issued stamped identification tags for its troops for the Franco-Prussian War. They were nicknamed “Hundemarken” (the German equivalent of “dog tags”) after a similar identification system instituted for dogs in Berlin.

Other mechanical processes developed during this the time are familiar to our customers today. One is roll stamping, or roller-die engraving. In this process, a hardened image die is pressed against the destination surface using pressure to impart the image.

The Modern Era of Marking

Things remained pretty much on the mechanical plane until 1960, when the first functioning laser was demonstrated at Hughes Research Laboratories in California. Manufacturers now use the complete line SCHMIDT laser systems to mark and engrave permanent identification on their parts for company branding or to meet industrial and government regulations.

It’s mind-blowing to stop and consider just how long marking has existed. It’s been an amazing journey. Whatever marking innovations occur in the future, rest assured that we will be ready to explore them and forge our place in marking history.