The History Of United States Passports


United States passports are issued to citizens and non-citizen nationals of the United States of America. They are exclusively issued by the United States Department of State. Passports allow an individual to be valid for travel anywhere in the World. Within the Department of State, the responsibility of passport issuance lies with the Passport Services Unit. This unit is part of what’s called the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Most passport issues, such as passport renewal or replacement, can be taken care of online.

Early History

During the War of Independence passports were issued to select citizens of the thirteen states by American consular officials. These early passports were simple sheets of paper that contained a description of the holder, and were only valid for three to six months. Benjamin Franklin, who was then the minister to France, based the initial design of American passports on that of French passports.

Department of State

Up until 1789 passports were issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was in that year the name of the department was renamed the Department of State. They handled all foreign relations, and up until the mid-nineteenth century, had various domestic duties. During World War I having a passport was required by executive order. However, there was no statutory authority to enforce the requirement.

Passports During Wartime

Between 1921 and 1941 there was no specific requirement for a passport under United States law. It was World War II (1939-1945) that led to the Travel Control Act. This act made it illegal to enter or leave the United States without an issued passport. This came about at a time when international travel was becoming much more common.

Passport Design

The actual design and contents of United States passports have changed over the years. In 1926, for example, passports had a stiff red cover. In 1941 they changed to green covers and stayed that way until 1976. In celebration of the American bicentennial that year passport covers were changed to blue. In 1981, America became the very first country to have machine-readable passports. Now, all United States passports have digital photos as well.

Processing Time

Regularly, to get a United States Passport takes about four to six weeks. However, there are many different ways to expedite the process. Companies are able to offer expedition after having registered with the Department of State’s National Hand Courier Program. These companies are held to a very strict code of conduct. All employees who handle passport applications are mandated to have complete background screenings. Also, these companies must follow guidelines to safeguard passport applicant’s personal information

The United States is also a country that allows dual nationality. This means it is acceptable, under the law, to have and use a foreign passport in addition to a United States passport. To apply for a passport you can visit a local post office, public libraries or clerks of court. However, it is most easily taken care of online. You can even obtain a children’s passport on the Department of State’s website.


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