Through change, consistency is found

The most visible symbol of the Fraternity is the badge, a decorated White Cross of Sigma Chi. It remains essentially unchanged, except of course for the letters it bears — and in some cases, its size — from the badges worn by the Founders some 158 years ago.

The badges known to the Founders were those of the other fraternities at the University of Miami of Ohio: the shield-shaped ones of Alpha Delta Phi, Beta Theta Pi and Phi Delta Theta, and the diamond-like version of Delta Kappa Epsilon’s badge.

Founders Benjamin Piatt Runkle, 1857, and William Lewis Lockwood, 1858, designed the Fraternity’s badge when they were undergraduates at Miami (Ohio). The selection of the White Cross as the core of the badge was not easy. In The History of Sigma Chi 1855-1930, by 9th Grand Consul and 12th Grand Historian Joseph Nate, ILLINOIS WESLEYAN 1890, the author writes that some of the Founders felt themselves unworthy of wearing the beautiful emblem. Yet they knew that the way to worthiness was in taking the best as an ideal, he adds.

The badge was designed with the help of James Carter Beard, a loyal Delta Kappa Epsilon who was sympathetic to the Founders’ cause; it was made by a goldsmith in Cincinnati.

The Founders first wore their badges on their commencement day, Thursday, June 28, 1855, as an agreed upon method of public announcement of the founding of Sigma Chi.

Early badge production

Beginning in 1856, all orders for badges went to a firm in New York, Henry Salisbury & Co.; that year the company made such pieces of jewelry for the initiates of the Miami (Ohio) chapter and for the charter members of the Ohio Wesleyan chapter. The price of the badges, after some experimentation by the makers, was $6, which would be about $150 today.

As the Fraternity began adding chapters, the responsibility of ordering badges belonged to the Ohio Wesleyan chapter, which took requests to purchase badges from other chapters. In the 1860s and 1870s, firms in the Philadelphia area made the items, and during the 1870s, the duty of ordering badges fell upon chapters in Pennsylvania, including the now-defunct chapters at Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania and Lafayette College.

Most of the badges made in the 1860s and 1870s were plain and unadorned with precious stones; however, there were some subtle variations in the design of the badges. Most of them were about 1-inch tall.

In 1878, J.F. Newman and Co. in New York City was contracted to begin to make Sigma Chi badges, and offered smaller-sized options, as well as jeweled badges. This marked the earliest official record of the use of jeweled badges.

From the late 1870s through the early 1900s, there were a number of official jewelers for Sigma Chi, including J.F. Newman, New York City; D.L. Auld of Columbus, Ohio.; Bunde & Upmeyer of Milwaukee, Wisc.; and George Dyer of Indianapolis, Ind. During this span of time, badges were purchased exclusively through these jewelers, typically through an authorized agent who was a member of the Fraternity. 

Differences in badges

Prior to 1912, there were various badges available to Sigma Chis, as differences in sizes and jewel configurations existed. At the 13th Grand Chapter, in 1911 Pittsburgh, delegates representing undergraduate chapters proposed that an official badge, uniform in size and materials, be made and adopted by the Fraternity. 

The proposition succeeded; a plan was devised whereby undergraduates were to supply their initiates the new, official badges from the General Fraternity. After Sept. 1, 1912, only the official badge, which was plain and of a standardized size, was to be worn by members during the period of active membership, according to Nate’s The History of Sigma Chi 1855-1930. However, a version with pearls and diamonds was also available.

Eight years later, the L.G. Balfour Company of Attleboro, Mass., became the official jeweler of the Fraternity. Except for a short period when Tiffany & Co. of New York City was the official jeweler, the Balfour Company held that role for most of the 20th century, until its fraternal division was sold to Herff-Jones. The latter remains the Fraternity’s sole official jeweler. In 2008, the General Fraternity increased the size of the badge by about 30 percent and made it flatter to make it a closer representation of the badges that the Founders wore. A third layer of the badge, which previously held black enamel and the “ΣΧ” letters, was removed, turning a prior three-step manufacturing process into a two-step process.

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