Passport – The Origin And History

In earlier times, in order to travel on vacations or holidays, horseback or horse and buggy were the general mode of transportation. As such, not much ground could be covered in a day. Particularly in the wide-open spaces of America some states could take days to travel across. However, when the railroad came along, with its mighty steam engines pulling car after car of holiday travelers it became apparent, particularly in Europe that there needed to be some method of controlling the flow of citizens of one country traveling through or to another country. Thus was created the Passport.

A simple definition of a passport is a document that enables one to pass from his country to another country (port). To be even more precise, it is an official document issued by the government of a country to one of its citizens, authorizing the citizen to travel to foreign countries. It also authenticates the bearer’s identity, citizenship, right to protection while abroad and right to re-enter his or her native country.

Curiously, passports mainly came into being as the result of wars – the Revolutionary War, World War I and II, etc. Benjamin Franklin, the entrepreneur printer and engraver that he was, designed the first U.S. passport while Minister to France trying to obtain funds to help the new country fight the British. He surmised that having one gave the fledgling U.S. a bit more respectability. He based his design on (copied) the French passport. They are currently issued by the U.S. State Department only but originally were issued by each state, cities and even notaries public. Congress gave the authority exclusively to the State Department in 1856.

A passport is a very valuable document, particularly for travelers on vacation or holiday. It allows you, with the permission of other countries, to travel in their environs, and allows you access to consular services and assistance while abroad. It grants you a certain degree of safety and security due to treaties between the two countries. Even expired passport can be used as evidence of citizenship of your country. They also help track movement of citizens from country to country, help to curtail unwanted elements into a country such as illegal immigrants and terrorists and help with immigration policies.

As more discretionary funds became available, and more and more of their security and comfort needs were met, world citizens reverted to an ancestral instinct. The instinct that lies deep within each of us as evidenced most noticeably in a Marco Polo, or an Admiral Perry, or a Columbus or a Ponce de Leon. The need to travel, the need to see what’s over that next hill, around that distant bend in the river, to discover what is past that tall mountain barely visible.

So people from all walks of life in all countries want to travel – want to explore. Since roughly the 1600s that urge has been easier to be achieved with advancements in transportation, and the phenomenon of a previously unheard of desire…vacations.

People worked hard and as the comforts of life enabled them to, they started taking time away from their everyday life. The more well-to-do families in America used the opportunity to take their usually very large families to the “continent”, to expose their children to the beauties of the “old world”, complete with different costumes and customs and food and language and art and mystery and sights and sounds available nowhere in America.

Immigrants from the old world continued to make America the melting pot by sailing to America, the land of opportunity. And they all needed passports. Without the appropriate documentation they had no way of getting into any other country. Treaties between nations would not allow them entrance. Countries were strict on quotas of new would-be citizens placing additional burdens on their infrastructure and resources. But with a passport, vacations were possible, holidays were possible.

Holidays abroad were anticipated from the time “Papa” gave the grand announcement that this year we are taking a European holiday until the ship left the dock. There were passport photos to be taken, steamer trunks to be packed and friends to be bragged to.

For those in America that could not afford European holidays, better and faster modes of transportation still allowed for holidays in the states. The U.S. at the turn of the century through President Theodore Roosevelt was adding to the National Park Properties a tremendous amount of territory, complete with natural wonders and sights unlike any other. Holidays at the beach, holidays at Yosemite or holidays in the Redwood Forests opened the minds of Americans to the grandeur that is America and created a sense of awe and wonder and national pride in the bounty that is America. No passports were needed to see the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

And the more traditional meaning of holidays was not overlooked either. What better place to travel to than holidays like the Fourth of July at Monticello, or even holidays like Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving celebrated with one’s family that didn’t require traveling or a passport?