In his comprehensive history of the U.S. passport, Tom Topol—passport expert, collector, and author of Let Pass or Die—has followed the evolution of this important document from its inception. Here, he concludes the series by marking modern day milestones from 1968 to the present day.
Milestones of the U.S. Passport
- August 26, 1968: The validity of U.S. passports was extended to five years from the date of issue, and renewal fees were abolished. In addition, the mail-in application (DSP-82) was introduced, and outstanding passports were automatically extended for five years from the date of issue.
- 1968: The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) was installed, which allowed for better use of passport writing machines. This helped to improve the efficiency and accuracy of passport processing.
- January 1, 1969: The message from the Secretary of State on the first page of the passport was changed to the third person, so that passports on hand would not have to be overprinted with a new Secretary’s name with each change of Secretary. This change was first made on January 1, 1961. The Secretary’s signature was restored in 1963 but was permanently removed on January 1, 1979.
- March 25, 1969: The Passport Office extended the consecutive numbering period for diplomatic, official, and Foreign Service passports for an additional 10 years through 1979.
- June 26, 1972: The requirement for taking an oath of allegiance was eliminated.
- November 1972: A joint effort by a private corporation and the Passport Office resulted in the development of the Instant Passport Photo System (IPPS). This system, primarily for use abroad at U.S. Embassies and consulates on an emergency basis, produces photographs that meet all the requirements of the Passport Office for use in U.S. passports when cut to the required size.
- 1976: Except during the peak season, passports were usually issued within three days after receipt of the application. In 1955, it took about six weeks from receipt of the application to issuance of the passport.
- January 1976: A special commemorative passport was issued in honor of the United States 200th anniversary. Bicentennial passports were issued only during the calendar year 1976 and had a five-year validity from the date of issue.
- April 1993 to March 1994: A green colored Benjamin Franklin passport was issued [during this period] to commemorate 200 years of the foreign service. According to statistics of the foreign office this type was issued 4.2 million times. And even though the numbers are much higher compared to the 1976 commemorative blue 200 years America edition, the green passport type is more difficult to find today.
- December 2005: The biometric e-passport was introduced for diplomatic staff, and in 2006, it was issued as a regular passport booklet. This type of passport includes an embedded data chip on the information page protected by a polycarbonate coating, which helps prevent the book from getting wet and bending. The chip also helps to prevent identity theft, as it stores personal information that cannot be easily falsified.
- August 2008: The passport card was introduced to facilitate travel into the U.S. by land and sea from Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean. The card provides proof of identity and citizenship.
- 2010: A modified version of the [passport] card was released, which included a secondary image of the card bearer on the front of the card.
- July 2016: The United States Department of State was expected to issue a next generation of the U.S. biometric passport. The new passport will have an embedded data chip on the information page protected by a polycarbonate coating, as well as a laser-cut passport number as tapered, perforated holes through pages. The new passport will also include upgraded artwork, new security features such as a watermark, “tactile features,” and more “optically variable” inks. These features will improve the security and durability of US passports, and [will] provide better protection against identity theft. This Next Generation Passport came to citizens with much delay, and was first issued on July 10, 2020.
This series has provided a comprehensive overview of the pivotal moments that have shaped over 240 years of U.S. passport history. However, it is imperative to note that this is merely a chapter in the ever-evolving saga of passport history.
While the physical manifestation of passports may be on the brink of obsolescence, it is highly probable that they will continue to evolve in a digital realm.
The American Passport – Its History 1898, Washington Government Printing Office
The United States passport: past, present, future 1976 –US Dept. of State – Passport Office
The Passport In America – The history of a document, Craig Robertson, Oxford University Press Inc., 2010
U.S. Diplomacy & Passport History – A guideline for passport collectors by Tom Topol
Tom Topol is a renowned passport expert, author, and editor of passport-collector.com . He consults with museums, foundations, media, and collectors globally, offering expertise on passport history, current passport topics, border security, biometrics, and travel. He provides expert writing services and can be reached through his website, which features a comprehensive reference list.