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When did U.S. passport design change?

The design of the United States passport has changed several times throughout history to incorporate new security features and aesthetic changes. Major redesigns of the U.S. passport have typically occurred every 10-20 years to keep up with advances in security printing and technology. Some of the most significant changes to the look and feel of U.S. passports over the years are highlighted below.

Early 20th Century (1900s-1920s)

Early U.S. passports had minimal design and security features. They were simply a single sheet of paper with a description of the bearer along with a space for stamps and visas. The first passports resembled letters of introduction from the U.S. government rather than an official travel document. It was not until World War I that passport standards became more rigorous, requiring photographs and detailed physical descriptions of the holder. However, the overall design remained very basic.


In 1925, the U.S. government issued passports with green covers, switching from the previous black covers used for many years prior. These green passport covers would become an iconic part of the U.S. passport’s look and feel for over 50 years. Other changes in this era included:

  • Introduction of more detailed bearer descriptions
  • Better quality passport photos glued or stapled to the inside page
  • Visa pages changed to a fold-out format

The overall design remained spartan and text-focused, with no major graphics or security features added.


Only minimal design changes occurred to U.S. passports during and after World War II in the 1940s. The emergence of the Cold War increased scrutiny of passport security, but did not substantially alter the physical appearance of passports in the late 1940s to 1950s. Some tweaks included:

  • Slightly larger physical dimensions
  • High quality lamination and layered paper to prevent forgery
  • Use of ultraviolet fluorescent ink as a security feature

Overall, the familiar green covers and limited design remained consistent in this era.


The late 1960s saw the first major redesign of the U.S. passport in over 40 years. In an effort to modernize, the U.S. government issued redesigned passports with the following changes:

  • New blue passport covers instead of green
  • More printed text changed to upper case
  • New typefaces used
  • Bolder graphics and scrollwork designs
  • Higher quality passport photos integrated into pages rather than glued in
  • Visa pages consolidated in the center rather than fold-out format

Further tweaks were made in the 1970s, such as red passport headers and more prominent emblem designs. However, the basic blue design first introduced in the late 1960s remained standard through the 1970s.


In 1981, the U.S. passport underwent another redesign to further enhance security and help prevent counterfeiting. Key changes included:

  • Burgundy red cover introduced, replacing the blue covers used since the late 1960s
  • First use of digitized photos on laminated inner pages
  • Integration of complex woven security threads, color-shifting inks, and watermarks
  • Updated graphic elements like the passport emblem and gold lettering
  • Plastic covers over passport books

This Burgundy design was the first to incorporate major advancements in computer and printing technologies. Subsequent iterations in the 1990s added machine-readable text and RFID chips to further digitize and secure U.S. passports.

2000s – Present

The look of the U.S. passport transformed after 2001 to combat increased threats of forgery and fraud. State Department contracts with defense technology contractors resulted in major redesigns featuring:

  • New ePassport format compatible with digital security infrastructure
  • Electronic data chips with holder’s biometric information
  • Laser-engraved data and images into pages rather than printed ink
  • Advanced photoshopped passport photos on integrated polymer pages rather than paper
  • Removal of staples and stitches for more seamless design

The post-9/11 digital passport is the most highly secure model ever produced, incorporating massive advancements in computer technologies, biometrics, and defense engineering. However, the basic burgundy color scheme has remained unchanged since the 1980s after many decades of a green then blue design.


In summary, the U.S. passport design has undergone four major redesign phases in the last century:

  • Green passports issued from 1925 to the late 1960s
  • Blue passports used in the late 1960s to early 1980s
  • Burgundy red passports since the 1980s
  • Digital ePassports with biometrics since the 2000s

While decorations and security features have evolved, the burgundy color has remained a staple since it was first introduced in the 1981 redesign. The U.S. passport continues to change along with technology to incorporate the latest anti-counterfeiting and anti-tampering advancements. Additional enhancements will likely occur in the future to protect against emerging threats to passport security and integrity.

Time Period Design and Colors Notable Features
Early 1900s-1920s Minimalist design; black covers No photo; simple letter format
1920s-1930s Green covers introduced; fold-out visas Photos glued/stapled; better bearer descriptions
1940s-1950s Green covers continued; slightly larger High quality lamination and paper
1960s-1970s New blue covers; modernized graphics Integrated photos; consolidated visa pages
1980s-1990s Burgundy covers introduced; plastic coating Digitized photos; woven security threads
2000s-Present Burgundy continues; ePassport format Biometric data chips; laser-engraved pages

This covers the major milestones in U.S. passport design changes over the past century. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!