History OF The Photo ID


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¿For Fast, Easy and Certain Identification, Nothing Bests a Photograph¿

On October 9th, 1804, the Governor of Massachusetts issued a passport to a man claiming to be Joseph Warren Revere, the son of famous patriot Paul Revere.  The passport did not include any description, signature and certainly no photograph of Joseph Revere.

Six month later, in England, the same man applied for another passport, offering as documentation his first passport and a letter of introduction allegedly from his father. The Charge d¿ Affaires of the U.S Legation issued the passport on March 15, 1805.  This time the document, signed by Joseph Revere, included a brief description of him.

Were these passports issued to the same man, the man claiming to be Joseph Warren Revere, son of Paul Revere? The Governor of Massachusetts may have been able to vouch for Revere¿s identity, but could the same be said of the Charge d¿ Affaires in London and the Consul in Rotterdam? Could the man described by the Charge d¿ Affaires as being ¿rather light¿ in complexion, with a ¿common¿ forehead and ¿large¿ chin, be described just three weeks later as having a ¿brown¿ complexion, with a ¿low¿ forehead and ¿normal¿ chin?

In fact, the holder of these passports was precisely who he said he was ¿ Joseph Warren Revere, son of the famous patriot. But the discrepancies in the documents, their lack of positive identification and their susceptibility to damage, forgery, alteration and misappropriation, highlight challenges that still confront modern identification technology.  Are we who we say we are? Can we prove it? Can the identifying document be produced easily, quickly and inexpensively? Is it functional and say to use? Is it durable and permanent?

The concern for positive identification is a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of recorded history there was little need for positive identification because people rarely traveled beyond their own town or province.  When they did, there was little point in carrying identification documents because most people couldn¿t reed or write.

Nevertheless, for the elite engaged in foreign travel, the use of passports can be traced to 450 B.C.  According to the Bible (Nehemiah 2.7), the King of Persia issued a passport to Nehemiah, the governor he appointed to rule Palestine: ¿If it please the King, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah.¿

Prior to 1796 U.S. passports did not contain descriptions of their bearers, probably because they were assumed to be ¿gentlemen¿ whose moral standards would preclude misrepresentation and for whom an inspection of their physical features would be considered as insult.

Times and moral coded change. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress created the Department of Foreign Affairs (later to become the Department of the State) responsible for, among other things, the granting of passports.  As of 1976, U.S. passports issued abroad were required to contain physical descriptions. In 1811, the same requirement was extended to passports issued in Washington.

Local and state authorities issued passports until 1856, when Congress restricted to function to the federal Department of State.  Except for periods of war, passports were not required for international travel until 1914: until then they were merely government-to ¿government requests for safe passage and assistance for their citizens.

Introduction of Photography
With the invention of practical portrait photography by Louis Daguerre in 1839, in became possible to created true and defining photographs of people.  But even the greater of inventions take time to spread throughout society.  Photography remained a complicated and specialized process with few practitioners until 1888 when George Eastman introduced the Kodak Box Camera No. 1.  The camera came loaded with film and was returned to the factory for processing, printing and reloading.  In the first two years 1000,000 cameras were sold.

One of the earliest implementations of identification photography was a 1906 test by the U.S. War Department to add photographs to personnel records.

It wasn¿t until 1915 that photographs were required comports of U.S passports. Until that time U.S. passports where printed on a single sheet of paper and contained essentially the same information as the design, ornamentation and the use of seals.  Six years later passports were printed on watermarked paper to guard against fraudulent alteration.

On the home front, to prevent spies, saboteurs and ¿fifth columnists¿ from infiltrating defense plants and other industries supporting wartime production, the government ordered employers to photograph and fingerprint all workers with access to sensitive areas and issue them photo identification documents that could be easily checked by security personnel. For most employers, this was the first time employee security and identification became a major issue in the workplace.

Unlike the armed forces identification effort, where a single department determined how the order would be satisfied, implementation was left in the hands of employers, subject to the approval of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Order proved somewhat difficult to carry out.

Some employers acted independently. Others, such as 157 companies in Racine, Wisconsin, formed a Manufactures Association that issued a standard identification document to all Racine defense workers led to two popular solutions ¿ the photo button and the photo ID card.  Scores of homemade and commercial camera systems where developed for these purpose.

Photo buttons came in a variety of shapes, usually 1 ½ - 2 inches in diameter and were constructed of two diameter and were constructed of two pieces of brass.  The rear plate was solid metal, onto which was placed a photograph and acetate cover.  The brass cover plate was open in the middle to let the photo show through and had the name and location of the company embossed around its front perimeter.  The entire assembly was inserted into the hand press that bent the cover plate rim around the rear plate.  Any attempt to remove the acetate or pry open the brass was easily spotted.

While companies could send their employees to local photographers to have their portraits taken, many sought out a system that kept the photographic process under their own control, maximizing security, reducing costs, and keeping their workers on site.

Early ID Systems
One high volume ID camera developed for the war effort was the Graflex identification Unit, developed by the Folmer Graflex Corporation of Rochester, N.Y. It had a prefocused 75mm lens and an interchangeable film magazine holding up to 100 feet of 35mm film.  A fully loaded camera could take up to 800 portraits without reloading.

The Graflex camera was attached to an adjustable platform that could be raised or lowered to accommodate the subject, who was photographed standing in front of a height chart with their chest pressed against the front of the platform.  Facing the camera at the end of the platform was an ID holder; under normal operation conditions the system could photograph 200 people per hour.  One user was reported to have photographed as man as 480 people an hour.

Companies that didn¿t have access to the Graflex camera or a similar unit, or couldn¿t afford such a systems came up with their own solutions.  One such company was the Columbian Steel Tank Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.

In an article reprinted in several industrial publications in 1942, advertising manager R.S. Robinson described in detail how Columbian had pieced together a camera system similar in design and function to the Graflex system. Equipped with a $6.35 Kodak Brownie Reflex camera, a window shade for a backdrop, two lighting stands, lights and a die cutter, the total system cost was $30.  Each stopping to reload after every 12 photographs, the system was able to photograph 60 to 75 employees per hour ¿ and like a Murphy bed, fold against the wall when not in use.

The Graflex, Columbian and other similar systems took head-and-shoulder portraits to create photo buttons and composite identification cards.  For organizations wanting a more secure identification card, cameras and systems were developed that would produce a one-piece, all-photo card.

Typical of these was to two-camera system built by Sam Kitrosser to produce identity cards for the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety.  Kitrosser built a box equipped with portrait and document lights and two Ansco Memo single frame 35mm cameras mounted near the top.  One camera (loaded with portrait film) faced the subject and the other (loaded with high contrast copy film) shot into a mirror that reflected down into the inside of the box. Placed on the bottom was the subject¿s data sheet.

Each camera had film plane masks, one to block out all but the portrait area and the other to block the portrait, permitting the data sheet to be photographed.  By sandwiching both negative together, they could be simultaneously printed to produce an all-photo ID card with data and portrait on a single sheet of photographic paper.  As a one-piece card, it was very hard to switch portraits without the attempt becoming obvious.

In a four-month period in 1942, Kitrosser and his assistant, and four other teams equipped with his identification system, criss-crossed Massachusetts, producing 250,000 identity cards for police, fire, mass transit and other engaged in civil defense and public safety work. 

The Monroe Duo-Camera
While the Kitrosser system and others like it produced a one-piece photo card from sandwiched negatives, a one-piece negative would be more secure.  The October 1941 issue of Photo Technique magazine reported on a system, called the Monroe Duo-Camera, that may well be considered the first modern photo identification system.

Developed by Spencer F. Monroe and marketed by the National Photo Identity Corp of Chicago, the one-step Monroe system produced a one-piece negative and embodied all the core functions of today¿s most advanced film-based, central issuance identification systems

The article explained that Monroe got the idea for the camera in 1937 when he tried to cash a $200 expense check at a Miami hotel.  When the cashier asked for identification, Monroe emptied the contents of his wallet on the counter. The skeptical cashier responded. ¿Mister, all of these cards and things might have been picked off of somebody on the street¿.

Monroe finally convinced the cashier of his identity by showing him a newspaper clipping that contained his photograph.

The experience led Monroe to develop a camera system that could simultaneously photograph on a single negative a portrait, signature, and thumb print and written data.  Four years later, in the midst of the concern for national security, the Monroe Duo-Camera entered the market.

The Monroe camera was equipped with two Wollensak fixed focus lenses, three portrait lights and two internal document lights.  The ingenious set-up placed the lenses on opposite sides of the film.  The portrait lens photographed the subject and projected the image onto the front of the film while the document lens projected the information sheet image off of a mirror and onto the back of the film.  Careful masking prevented the images form interfering with each other.

The Monroe camera held 200 feet of 35mm film and was said to be able to photograph an individual in five seconds and about 250 people in an hour.

The unidentified author of the 1941 article acknowledged the importance of photo identification to the war effort, but added this astute prediction about the Monroe photo identification system: ¿¿probably the real future of the device lies in its ability to identify people in their picture helped Mr. Monroe to get his check cashed.¿

In fact, photo ID cards have changed little in appearance since World War II.  Most, then as now, contain the holder¿s photo, personal information, an identification number, an organizational logo, and the signature of an issuing officer. What has changed since the mid 40¿s are the methods of production and security and functional features. 

Specialized Id Development
The first mayor post-war improvement in photo identification was the 1948 introduction of the Polaroid Land Model 95 instant camera.  First offered to the public in a Boston department store, the camera developed sepia colored pictures in one minute. Most of the demonstration pictures were of customers standing in front of a blank wall and staring into the camera, just as they would if the picture was to be used for an identification card.  In fact, standard Polaroid consumer cameras were used for composite ID card.

The first attempt to turn the standard camera into a more specialized identification product was the 1952 introduction of the Fairchild-Polaroid Id Camera, producing for Id photos on a single sheet of instant Polaroid film.  The Fairchild camera utilized the Model 95 camera back, containing the instant film transport and development system, and replaced the Polaroid lens/shutter assembly with a Wollensak assembly, stereo image splitter and shift lever.

With the lens assembly shifted down, the stereo splitter sent two side-by-side images through the lens and projected them onto the top half of the film.  Without advancing the film the assembly was shifted into its upward position and a second exposure was made, exposing tow new images on the bottom half of the film.

The Fairchild system camera sat on a tripod equipped with tow portrait lights extended right and left and a name plate/ID number holder in front of the camera.  The subject stood in front of a white pull-down screen with his chest placed against the name plate.  The camera could create dual portraits of tow individuals per minute, and allowing 10 minutes for reloading the camera, photograph 100 people in an hour.

In 1955 Polaroid introduced its own beam-splitter lens attachment, called the Stereo-Tech, which required no modifications to the standard Model 95 camera and produced two Id portraits on a single sheet of instant film.

Sam Kitrosser, who had developed a war-time ID camera system, worded for Polaroid after the war and then joined Itek Corp.  In 1961 he developed the Quad Camera for Itek, a four-lens affair that used the workhorse Polaroid Model 95 instant camera back as its film system.  The quad camera employed high-quality lenses and a professional viewing optic that made good use of studio lighting, as well as camera-mounted lights.  A lens cover system allowed the operator to take any or all of the four pictures at the same time.

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