Governments issue their citizens and non-citizen nationals a passport as proof of their citizenship and residence. The earliest ones for just a few select persons during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Passports were sheets of paper printed on one side, included a description of the bearer, and were valid for three to six months. Eventually the issuing of passports was done by the U. S. State Department, but also by individual states and cities, and even a notary public could issue a passport during the first half of the 1800s. All of this created confusion.
By 1856 Congress made it a law that passports could only be issued by the U. S. State Department. Not all foreign countries required an American to have a passport. However, many citizens did get a passport to keep on hand. Records of the Department of State show that 130,360 passports were issued between 1810 and 1873, and that 369,844 passports were issued between 1877 and 1909. Most of these were done as a couple (husband and wife) or even a whole family passport rather than one for each person.
The National Archives and Records Administration maintain records for passport issued prior to 1925. You may write to them at the following address:
National Archives and Records Administration
8th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20408
The styles of the American passport have changed over the years. In the 1920s and 30’s a passport had a red cover. American passports as booklets had green covers from 1941 until 1976, when the cover was changed to blue. Green covers were used again between April 1993 and March 1994 then returned to the blue cover style.
A small passport collection of some famous individuals and what their photo was for the passport along with some general information, birth date and place provides extra details. For example everyone has seen the image of Ernest Hemingway with the white beard, but here is his portrait for a passport, a very young Hemingway.
If you can locate an ancestor’s passport or the application for a passport there could be a treasure chest of information.
Photo: Passport of author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife in the 1920s.< Return To Blog