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Until March 2003, 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.

Before it was dissolved to form part of the U.S.marker Department of Homeland Securitymarker as the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs 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.

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 Louisianamarker and Oregonmarker territories; Floridamarker and Alaskamarker; 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.marker

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 agents used modern police methods -- often in concert with allied agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker, 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 Departmentmarker to the Department of Homeland Securitymarker.

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 U.S.
Customs Service in the late 1800s.
  • All Cubanmarker products without a specific license for their importation, such as cigars.
  • Illegal drugs
  • Unscreened fruits and meats
  • Excessive quantities of textiles
  • Undeclared liquor over allowable limits
  • Tobacco products over allowable limits
  • Undeclared money or monetary instruments over $10,000
  • Undeclared firearms and weapons
  • Counterfeit Merchandise (i.e. cellphones, perfume and other consumer products)
  • Items Violating Intellectual Property Rights
  • Stolen Property
  • Child pornography
  • Weapons


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 1977–1980 Carter
William Von Raab 1981–1989 Reagan
Carol B. Hallett 1989–1993 G.H.W.Bush
George J. Weise 1993–1997 Clinton
Raymond W. Kelly 1998–2001 Clinton
Robert C. Bonner 2001–2003 G.W.Bush

See also


  1. 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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