How the Swiss passport became Red

To have a passport seems to us to be obvious. But the little booklet has yet existed a little over 100 years. And it was only around 50 years ago that the Swiss passport got his classic red color. The word “passport” is derived from the Latin “passare”, which means “to go through” or “to pass”. The development of the passport is closely linked to the history of the states and their relationship to each other.

Swiss passport issued 1862 by Poet and Writer Gottfried Keller as clerk of the city of Zurich

Until the middle of the 15th century, it was mainly the letter of safe conduct or protection that was known in Europe. The letter of protection was issued for individuals, groups or goods and allowed a free passage through foreign territory. The issuing authorities often guaranteed a safe passage with the paper. The cover letter was thus something of an insurance policy for the transported goods. Such papers were issued exclusively to strangers and were not subject to citizenship. These passports were also a source of income for the exhibitor.

From safe conduct to passport letter

From the 15th century onward, the identification of the individual, or border control, came more and more to the fore. The passport letter was created, for example, to detect deserters at the border or to prevent the uncontrolled intrusion of “foreign rabble”. In contrast to the safe conduct, this document did not contain any right to protection. The passport letter was purely a permit to pass through and served above all to identify the owner – much more than his name was not to be found in these documents at the beginning.

The first register of persons maintained centrally by a state was launched in France on 29 September 1792. The law passed by the National Assembly at that time regulated the notarization of the civil status of citizens.

Clothes make the man

Over time, the information in the papers changed: In the 16th century, in the English kingdom, even the clothing was still noted in the passport. At that time it was believed that the clothes would represent the stand or the position of the person and would always remain the same.

Since passports were issued irrespective of their origin and some of the exhibitors made a business out of them, it is said that in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, there were many Englishmen who traveled with French papers as they were cheaper.

In the course of the 19th century it became common to indicate age and stature in addition to the name. Furthermore, signal elements such as stature, face, hair, eye color, nose, nationality and place of birth entered the passport. Towards the end of the century, the entry of a fingerprint also came into fashion.

A passport for each canton

The passport as a personal identity card as we know it today was only created during the First World War. Issuing passports in Switzerland was a matter for the cantons until then.

However, these cantonal passports had more the function of a travel permit than an identity card in the present sense. There were no regular ID cards at that time. Passports containing only name, place of residence and nationality were issued in Switzerland as required.

First passport regulation

During the First World War, the passport was finally bound to citizenship, and the state took over the issuing of these documents. In Switzerland, on 27 November 1915, the Federal Council issued a “Ordinance on the use of a uniform passport form” valid throughout Switzerland. The uniform Swiss passports were issued from 10 December 1915. This first national identity card had a dark green cover.

swiss passport history
How The Swiss Passport Became Red – Swiss Passport History

Red only since 1959

On 10 December 1928, the first “Federal Passport Ordinance” was issued, i.e. a uniform federal regulation of the entire passport system. As a result, all cantonal passport offices and all passport offices abroad were now subject to the same regulations.

evolution passport journey time

On 26 August 1932 the color of the pass changed to light brown. Almost 30 years later, on August 1, 1959, the Swiss passport received its well-known red color and a white Swiss cross. In 1985 a new red passport was introduced – the last with a pasted photo – and on January 1, 2003 the machine-readable passport came into circulation.

Since September 2006, Switzerland has also been issuing an e-passport, passport 06.

The new Pass 10 has been available since 1 March 2010. This is equipped with a chip on which the fingerprints and a facial image are stored electronically (e-passport). This data increases the security of travel documents and makes their misuse more difficult.

As an associated Schengen state, Switzerland is obliged to issue only e-passports. The definitive introduction of a biometric Swiss passport represents an international obligation, the fulfillment of which should continue to ensure the freedom of travel of the Swiss.

The latest Swiss passport type was introduced in Oct 2022 and is iconic as ever.

Basics for the introduction of the biometric passport

Parliament laid the foundations for the definitive introduction of the biometric passport in summer 2008. On 17 October 2008, the referendum against this resolution was held, and on 17 May 2009 the voters accepted the bill. The definitive introduction of the biometric passport (passport 10) took place on 1 March 2010.

How The Swiss Passport Became Red – Swiss Passport History

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