A brief history of employee badges

By Jay Ferguson, retired Louisville Water Museum Specialist

We wear them all the time, but most of us likely haven’t thought much about the story behind our employee identification badge.

Louisville Water responded to a new need for employee identification because of heightened security concerns at the outbreak of World War II.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, employees were issued ID badges with their photos so others could easily tell if the workers were truly Louisville Water employees and not nefarious saboteurs.

It is not known for certain, but it is assumed that the round badges shown in the photos are from this era. After the war, security was relaxed somewhat and the numbering system shown on the badges was discontinued.

A new employee numbering system was likely instituted in the early 1960s.This might have been due to the advent of computerization. A consulting firm for new customer and management systems promoted using numbers on labor identification cards and timecards as a labor-saving device.

That numbering system was in use at least into 1980, but it was rather cumbersome. Numbers were assigned alphabetically by employees’ last names: 0 – 999 was for names beginning A – C, 1000 – 1999 for names C – F, and so on. If a woman got married and changed her last name, she received a new employee number.

The current Louisville Water employee numbering system seems to have begun sometime in the early 1980s. It thoroughly replaced the older system. All employees were given new numbers, but some employees received previously assigned numbers.

Today, each Louisville Water employee is issued a badge with a unique identification number and his or her photo. Employees in the field rarely need to enter customers’ homes, but if they do, they should only be allowed access if they can present an ID badge.