United States Customs Service

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United States Customs Service
Agency overview
Formed July 31, 1789
Dissolved March 1, 2003
Superseding agency
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Parent agency United States Department of the Treasury
Website www.customs.gov

The United States Customs Service was an agency of the U.S. federal government that collected import tariffs and performed other selected border security duties.

In March 2003, as a result of the homeland security reorganization, most of the U.S. Customs Service was merged with the border elements of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, including the entire Border Patrol and former INS inspectors, together with border Agriculture inspectors, to form U.S Customs and Border Protection, a single, unified border agency for the U.S. The investigative office of U.S. Customs was split off and merged with the INS investigative office and the INS interior detention and removal office to form Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which among other things, is responsible for interior immigration enforcement. The United States Customs Service had three major missions: collecting tariff revenue, protecting the U.S. economy from smuggling and illegal goods, and processing people and goods at ports of entry.


Responding to the urgent need for revenue following the American Revolutionary War, the First United States Congress passed and President George Washington signed the Tariff Act of July 4, 1789, which authorized the collection of duties on imported goods. Four weeks later, on July 31, the fifth act of Congress established the United States Customs Service and its ports of entry.

As part of this new government agency, a new role was created for government officials which was known as "Customs Collector". In this role, one person would have responsibility to supervise the collection of custom duties in a particular city or region.

For over 100 years after its birth, the U.S. Customs Service was the primary source of funds for the entire government, and paid for the nation's early growth and infrastructure. Purchases include the Louisiana and Oregon territories; Florida and Alaska; funding the National Road and the Transcontinental Railroad; building many of the nation's lighthouses; the U.S. Military and Naval academies, and Washington, D.C.

Flag of the United States Customs Service

The flag of the Customs Service was designed in 1799 by Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr. and consists of 16 vertical red and white stripes with a coat of arms depicted in blue on the white canton. The original design had the Customs Service seal that was an eagle with three arrows in his left talon, an olive branch in his right and surrounded by an arc of 13 stars. In 1951, this was changed to the eagle depicted on the Great Seal of the United States.

Its actual name is the Revenue Ensign, as it was flown by ships of the Revenue Cutter Service, later the Coast Guard, and at customs houses.

In 1910, President William Howard Taft issued an order to add an emblem to the flag flown by ships from the one flown on land at customs houses. The version with the badge continues to be flown by Coast Guard Vessels. Until 2003, the land version was flown at all United States ports of entry.[1]

The U.S. Customs Service employed a number of federal law enforcement officers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Customs Special Agents investigated smuggling and other violations of customs, narcotics and revenue laws. Customs Inspectors were uniformed officers at airports, seaports and land border ports of entry who inspected people and vehicles entering the U.S. for contraband and dutiable merchandise. Customs Patrol Officers conducted uniformed and plainclothes patrol of the borders on land, sea and air to deter smuggling and apprehend smugglers.

In the 20th century, as international trade and travel increased dramatically, the Customs Service transitioned from an administrative bureau to a federal law enforcement agency. Inspectors still inspected goods and took customs declarations from travelers at ports of entry, but Customs Special Agents used modern police methods—often in concert with allied agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Border Patrol—to investigate cases often far from international airports, bridges and land crossings.

With the passage of the Homeland Security Act, the U.S. Customs Service passed from under jurisdiction of the Treasury Department to the Department of Homeland Security.

On March 1, 2003, parts of the U.S. Customs Service combined with the Inspections Program of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine from USDA, and the Border Patrol of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to form U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Federal Protective Service, along with the investigative arms of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, combined to form U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Examples of illegal items[edit]


This table lists all Commissioners of Customs, their dates of service, and under which administration they served.

Commissioner Term Administration
Ernest W. Camp 1927–1929 Coolidge
Francis Xavier A. Eble 1929–1933 Hoover
James Henry Moyle 1933–1939 Roosevelt
Basil Harris 1939–1940 Roosevelt
William Roy Johnson 1940–1947 Roosevelt, Truman
Frank Dow (acting) 1947–1949 Truman
Frank Dow 1949–1953 Truman
Ralph Kelly 1954–1961 Eisenhower
Philip Nichols, Jr. 1961–1964 Kennedy, Johnson
Lester D. Johnson 1965–1969 Johnson
Myles Joseph Ambrose 1969–1972 Nixon
Vernon Darrell Acree 1972–1977 Nixon, Ford
Robert E. Chasen 1977 – December 1980 Carter
William T. Archey (acting) December 1980 – October 1981 Reagan
William Von Raab October 1981 – July 31, 1989 Reagan, G.H.W.Bush
Michael H. Lane (acting) August 1, 1989 – November 2, 1989 G.H.W.Bush
Carol B. Hallett November 3, 1989 – January 18, 1993 G.H.W.Bush
Michael H. Lane (acting) January 19, 1993 – May 12, 1993 G.H.W.Bush, Clinton
George J. Weise May 13, 1993 – April 18, 1997 Clinton
Samuel H. Banks (acting) April 19, 1997 – July 30, 1998 Clinton
Raymond W. Kelly July 31, 1998 – January 19, 2001 Clinton
Charles W. Winwood (acting) January 20, 2001 – September 9, 2001 G.W.Bush
Robert C. Bonner September 10, 2001 – March 1, 2003[2] G.W.Bush

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. Coast Guard Flags". United States Coast Guard. October 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  2. ^ When the U.S. Customs Service was merged into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on March 1, 2003, Robert C. Bonner became commissioner of the newly formed service and continued in that role until 2006.

External links[edit]