We’re about to dig into a slice of history that’s as American as apple pie and baseball. You’ve probably heard the term “leatherneck” thrown around when people talk about the U.S. Marines. If not, no sweat. We’re about to clear up that mystery for you. 

It’s not some random term that someone pulled out of a hat, nor is it some obscure military jargon. This nickname has a tumultuous history that stretches back centuries, and it’s as tough and tenacious as the U.S. Marines themselves.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The story of why U.S. Marines are called “leathernecks” is quite a trip, filled with old-school warfare, ships at sea, swords, and some good old-fashioned grit and determination. Let’s dive right in and uncover the origins of this unique nickname and how it’s woven into the very fabric of Marine history.

The U.S. Marines of the 18th Century

Let’s kick things off by returning to the wild days of the 18th and 19th centuries. You’ve got your ships with sails billowing in the wind, cannons blasting, and good old hand-to-hand combat. Life back then was far from a walk in the park, especially if you were in the U.S. Marines.

The Marines were newly formed and tasked with a unique and challenging role in America’s military. They served aboard Navy vessels and were often at the frontlines during ship engagements, including boarding enemy vessels. Not exactly the most chill job in the world.

The Birth of the ‘Leathernecks’

Back in those days, part of their job was naval combat. They’d sail into battle, trading cannon fire with enemy ships. But they weren’t just shooting from a distance.

They were boarding those enemy ships to duke it out up close and personal, like Pirates of the Caribbean, but with way less Johnny Depp and more real danger. You had enemies swinging sharp blades around, too. Getting hit by one of those in the neck… wouldn’t be pretty.