In October 1920, a meeting held in France changed the way we travelled forever. It invented the modern passport.

It doesn't matter what nationality you are, passports across the world all look the same — with a similar number of pages, size, design and layout.

This is because the League of Nations — an intergovernmental organisation founded after the First World War to maintain world peace — convened in Paris for the Paris Conference on Passports & Customs Formalities and Through Tickets. Here, for the first time, a set of standards for all passports issued by members of the League was agreed upon.

The passport, as we know it, was invented by the League of Nations in 1920. Photo / 123RF
The passport, as we know it, was invented by the League of Nations in 1920. Photo / 123RF

Prior to World War I, passports were not required for travel within Europe, and crossing a border was a relatively straightforward procedure. But during the war, that all changed. European governments cracked down on immigration and travel for security reasons, introducing tougher border requirements.

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Following the war, maintaining security while easing border crossings was a priority, however, the lack of a standardised passport posed "a serious obstacle to the resumption of normal intercourse and to the economic recovery of the world", the League noted.

Even if people could gather all the necessary documentation to travel, border officials often struggled to scrutinise foreign certifications, which came in all shapes and sizes with differing information and little guidance as to authenticity.

The Paris Conference on Passports & Customs Formalities and Through Tickets specified the size, layout, and design of travel documents for the 42 member nations of the League of Nations.

It proposed that passports should be 15.5cm x 10.5cm and must contain 32 pages — the first four detailing the holder's appearance and personal details with the remaining 28 reserved for the visas of the countries for which the passport is valid.

The design of the modern passport has barely changed over the last 100 years. Photo / 123RF
The design of the modern passport has barely changed over the last 100 years. Photo / 123RF

It stated that all passports must be bound in cardboard, with the cover bearing the country's name and coat of arms centred on it.

Although standards are now governed by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the design and layout of passports have remained relatively unchanged for almost 100 years.

Instead, the most notable changes to standards have been in passport security, including holograms, watermarks, encoded data for computer reading, and most significantly, embedded electronic chips which contains biometric information used to authenticate the identity of passport holder (known as an e-Passport).