United States Customs Service

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.

United States Customs Service
Agency overview
FormedJuly 31, 1789 (1789-07-31) (1 Stat. 29)
Superseding agency
JurisdictionFederal government of the United States
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
Parent agencyUnited States Department of the Treasury

In March 2003, as a result of the homeland security reorganization, the U.S. Customs Service was renamed the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection,[1] and most of its components were merged with the border elements of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, including the entire U.S. 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 it was founded, the U.S. Customs Service was the primary source of funds for the entire government, and paid for the country'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.

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. The original World Trade Center complex, particularly building 6 housed offices of the US customs service.[2]

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


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.[3] The renamed CBP Ensign is currently flown at CBP's headquarters in Washington, D.C., at its Field Offices, overseas duty locations including preclearance ports, and at all land, air, and sea ports of entry.


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

Ernest W. Camp1927–1929Coolidge
Francis Xavier A. Eble1929–1933Hoover
James Moyle1933–1939Roosevelt
Basil Harris1939–1940Roosevelt
William Roy Johnson1940–1947Roosevelt, Truman
Frank Dow (acting)1947–1949Truman
Frank Dow1949–1953Truman
Ralph Kelly1954–1961Eisenhower
Philip Nichols Jr.1961–1964Kennedy, Johnson
Lester D. Johnson1965–1969Johnson
Myles Ambrose1969–1972Nixon
Vernon D. Acree1972–1977Nixon, Ford
Robert E. Chasen1977 – December 1980Carter
William T. Archey (acting)December 1980 – October 1981Reagan
William von RaabOctober 1981 – July 31, 1989Reagan, G.H.W.Bush
Michael H. Lane (acting)August 1, 1989 – November 2, 1989G.H.W.Bush
Carol Boyd HallettNovember 3, 1989 – January 18, 1993G.H.W.Bush
Michael H. Lane (acting)January 19, 1993 – May 12, 1993G.H.W.Bush, Clinton
George J. WeiseMay 13, 1993 – April 18, 1997Clinton
Samuel H. Banks (acting)April 19, 1997 – July 30, 1998Clinton
Raymond KellyJuly 31, 1998 – January 19, 2001Clinton
Charles W. Winwood (acting)January 20, 2001 – September 9, 2001G.W.Bush
Robert C. BonnerSeptember 10, 2001 – March 1, 2003[4]G.W.Bush

See also


  1. "6 USC 542 Reorganization Plan". Government Publishing Office. January 17, 2018. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  2. Six World Trade Center
  3. "U.S. Coast Guard Flags". United States Coast Guard. October 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2011.
  4. 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.
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