Sergeant Major Jiggs and the History Behind USMC Bulldog Tattoos

Sergeant Major Jiggs and the History Behind USMC Bulldog Tattoos

How the bulldog seen in these tattoos became the face of the United States Marine Corps.

Rin Tin Tin will probably go down as the greatest four-legged soldier of all time, but for those who are familiar with United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) history, one dog stands above the rest as a true American hero — Sergeant Major Jiggs, the English Bulldog. It hasn’t always been official, but this stout and jowly breed has served as the mascot for the USMC since shortly after the First World War. Over the course of the last century, the image of a bulldog wearing a combat helmet has become synonymous with the Marine Corps, and to show their stripes, soldiers get tattoos of the courageous canine.

Oddly enough, it was the Germans who inspired the USMC to take up the English Bulldog as its mascot. During WWI, German soldiers started referring to Marines as “teufel-hunden,” which translates as devil-dogs. Teufel-hunden are actually giant wolves from Bavarian legends, but in order to garner support for the war effort, the US played up the idea of its infantrymen being like fearsome dogs of war and released a recruiting poster featuring a bulldog in military garb. The image was hugely popular, and soon after its release, the USMC unofficially adopted the dog as an alternative to the official emblem featuring an eagle perched atop a globe.

Just having the image of a bulldog for a mascot wasn’t enough for the Marine Corps, so they acquired an real-life one by the name of King Bulwark in 1922, and General Smedley D. Butler renamed him Private Jiggs. In just two years, Jiggs rose through the ranks, first getting promoted to the position of Sergeant and then to Sergeant Major in the span of only seven months. Though he passed away in 1927, the USMC’s tradition of owning a bulldog carries on to this day, and because of the traditional styles’ longstanding history with the military, it was only a matter of time before Jiggs appeared in tattoos. Now the iconic devil-dog can frequently be seen growling on Marines’ bodies.

To check out more traditional tattoos, make sure to visit all of these tattooists’ Instagrams. If you’re an active Marine or previously served in the USMC, consider having one of them design a tattoo of Sergeant Major Jiggs to commemorate the sacrifice you made.

This little look at military tattoo history was our most recent installment of Bold that Holds, our series where we explore the history and meaning of traditional body art. We hope you liked learning about Sergeant Major Jiggs. If you want to find out about more motifs, be sure to hit up these other posts about anchors, reapers, pigs and roosters, swallows, the Sacred Heart, lighthouses, and the Rock of Ages design.

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