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  4. 1789: First Congress Provides for Customs Administration

1789: First Congress Provides for Customs Administration

On July 31, 1789, the U.S. Congress passed the third of three acts that provided for administering customs tariffs and collecting duties. Earlier on the nation’s birthday, the Tariff Act of July 4, 1789, had been passed by Congress followed by the Duties on Tonnage statute on July 20. And on the last day of the month, Congress established customs districts. Administration of customs laws was placed under the secretary of the Treasury by an act of September 2, 1789.

Fiscal administration of customs laws fell under the comptroller of the Treasury from 1792 until the creation of the position of commissioner of Customs by an act of March 3, 1849. These commissioners served as more as auditors of accounts than administrators. The position of commissioner was abolished on July 31, 1894.

In 1875, the Division of Customs was created in the Treasury Department by an act of March 3, 1875 and the position of chief was created to administer the division. Fifty-three years later, the division and the Special Agency Service of the Treasury Department were consolidated to form the Bureau of Customs in 1927. A re-envisioned commissioner of customs position was created as the chief administrator of the bureau.

The Customs Bureau was renamed the U.S. Customs Service in 1973. U.S. Customs was dissolved in 2003 with the newly created Bureau of Customs and Border Protection assuming many of its former roles and responsibilities.


Last Modified: May 26, 2023