A Passport Without A Photo

A Passport Without A Photo 150 150

SM Waller photo 850 1 Waller Passport 850 1Before affixed photographs were required in 1914, applicants swore “solemnly and sincerely” to be U.S. citizens and identified themselves by facial features, hair, eye, and complexion color. This is one of the oldest passports in our collection from 1859-belonging to Samuel Waller (1824-1864). A New York City dry goods importer, Waller traveled frequently to Europe to buy fine clothing for resale. While passports for international travel were not required until 1941, U.S. travelers often did so to prove their American citizenship for protection during foreign wars; in Waller’s case, the Franco-Austrian War. His economic forays served him well, for at the time of his death at the age of 40, his estate was valued at $166,000 (2.5 million today)! Waller identified himself as having a “straight” mouth, “round” chin, and “florid” (ruddy) complexion. But how could anyone tell under that fashionable beard!

In 1856, the State Department was given sole authority to issue passports to U.S. citizens. Passports had been issued since 1775, but by states, cities, and notaries, as well as the federal government. The first travel restrictions that would require US citizens to carry passports for travel would begin temporarily in 1861 during the Civil War. The unusual symbol at the top – an eagle with a lyre – was added to the U.S. passport design by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Adams developed the design himself, which symbolizes the civilizing effect Orpheus (of ancient Greek mythology) and his lyre had on “savage man”. The familiar booklets that we use today started to be distributed in 1926. 

Collection of the National Museum of American Diplomacy, Gift of Stephen H. Grant, FSO, ret.