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 American passport renewal or replacement, can be taken care of online.
Early American Passports
Throughout the War of Independence it was American consular officials who decided which citizens of the colonies were given passports. These first passports were small pieces of paper that displayed a description of the carrier, and were only valid for three to six months at a time. Benjamin Franklin, who was the minister to France at the time, planned that the first American passports look similar to French passports.
Department of State
The Department of Foreign Affairs was responsible for issuing passports until 1789. It was then that the name of the branch was altered to the Department of State. They were in tasked with handling all foreign relations, and until the mid-nineteenth century, had numerous domestic duties as well. After World War I registering for a passport became a law that was enacted by an executive order. However, there was no way to enforce the policy and the law was eventually repealed.
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.
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.
Generally, to acquire a childrens passport takes four to six weeks of processing time. There are, however, ways to have this tedious process expedited much quicker. Companies exist that are capable of offering expedition after they register with the Department of State’s National Hand Courier Program. These select companies are held to a firm code of conduct. Their employees who handle passport applications are required to have background checks. In addition, these companies must adhere to guidelines to make sure a passport applicant’s personal information protected.