The Depot

Marine Corps Birthday: A History of the Celebration

USMC Birthday

Annually the United States Marine Corps has celebrated its birthday on November 10th. That particular date was chosen for the Marine Corps birthday because on that day in 1775, the Second Continental Congress resolved to raise two battalions of Continental Marines. Every year, Marines get dressed up, don their medals, and celebrate the Marine Corps birthday on Nov. 10, 1775.

During the American revolution, Marines had fought on land and sea, but at the close of the war the Marine Corps and the Navy were disbanded in 1783. But on July 11, 1798, President John Adams approved a bill that reestablished the Marine Corps, giving it the rebirth needed to recognize its birthday to 1775.

Prior to 1921, the Marine Corps birthday had been celebrated on July 11th to mark the date when the Corps was born again. Then in 1921, the 13th Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921, on Nov. 1, 1921 and it formalized the Marine Corps birthday as November 10th. 

Lejeune’s order stated:
“The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

"On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name 'Marine.' In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

"The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

"In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term 'Marine' has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

"This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.”

In 1923 the Marine Barracks at Ft. Mifflin, Pennsylvania staged a formal dance and Marines put on their medals and dress uniforms to celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. The Marines at the Washington Navy Yard arranged a mock battle on the parade ground.

The first formal Marine Corps birthday ball took place in Philadelphia in 1925. Guests included the commandant, the secretary of war and a host of statesmen and elected officials. Prior to the ball, Lejeune unveiled a memorial plaque at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Marine Corps. The tavern, which is no longer standing, is regarded as the location where the first Marines enlisted to serve with Samuel Nicholas, considered the first commandant of the Marine Corps.

In 1952, the Corps formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances and later the celebration’s protocols were included in the Marine Corps Drill Manual and approved in January 1956. Marine Corps policy mandates that the first piece of Marine Corps birthday cake must be presented to the oldest U.S. Marine present and passed to the youngest Marine representing the passing of tradition from generation to generation, unless there is a guest of honor. Among the many such mandates is the reading of the commandant’s Marine Corps birthday message to the Corps.

The annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball is today a celebration of Marine Corps history and traditions. It represents where the Marine Corps started and where it is now; while giving a glimpse of the past, present and future.

However, Marines do not need to wear their dress blues and all of their medals to celebrate their birthday. No matter where they are, throughout the world on November 10th, Marines celebrate the Marine Corps birthday and their beloved Corps, even while at war and in austere conditions.