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How ID Cards Have Evolved

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ID cards are one of the most ubiquitous features of modern life. Just open up your wallet or your pocket book and look at how many forms of ID you are carrying with you right now. You might also have an ID card that you wear around your neck or belt, a passport sitting in a drawer somewhere, and maybe even a collection of expired or irrelevant ID cards that you are hanging on to.

Would you be surprised to know that the first ID cards date back to the time of King Henry V, and that they were not much different than the ones we use today? They may not have had pictures or magnetic stripes on them, but they served the same purpose – to be a highly portable and reliable means to separate one person from another. We have put together this brief history to show you how much, and how little, ID cards have evolved.

Paper ID

References to identity papers of one form or another have been found as far back as 450 BC. But it was King Henry V of England who is credited with inventing the first true passport. References to the documents appear as early as 1414, but it was not until 1540 that those documents were actually referred to as passports. ID cards were also issued by Napoleon to help identify workers. Though many people had a passport, and a limited number of workers were required to carry some form of official identification, ID cards remained rare throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This was partly due to the fact that there was not much need for them, and partly due to the fact that paper ID cards could be easily forged, making them an unreliable source.

Photo ID

ID cards took a big leap forward in the early 20th century thanks to advances in photography. Once it became technologically feasible and cost effective to pair a person's identifying documents with their photograph, the efficacy of these documents multiplied. Both France and England took steps to issue national ID cards, and they became increasingly common in the workplace. Use multiplied again following the invention of the magnetic stripe in the 1960s. Now that cards could store data, the physical limitations of their small size became irrelevant. This gave rise to credit cards and hospital ID cards. But exploding use of ID cards created an unexpected problem – countries and companies were issuing cards in wildly different shapes and sizes. The International Organization for Standardization fixed that when they created a universal standard for ID cards in 1985.

Digital ID

The magnetic stripe inevitable gave way to more advanced technologies, and we now have ID cards capable of carrying vast amounts of information, allowing entry and exit through a number of access control systems, and with sophisticated safety measures built in making forgery next to impossible. When paired with certain types of scanners, it is even possible for these cards to be read simply by standing close enough. The technology has come a long way, and it continues to develop at such a rapid pace because the necessity of ID cards is greater than ever. Organizations of all types, from governments, to private companies, to clubs and membership societies are looking for a way to manage the logistics of access. ID cards are small enough to carry anywhere, smart enough to carry reams of important information, and affordable enough that issuing them is not a burden. Don't expect this solution to go away anytime soon.

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