The Customs Service, created by an act of July 31, 1789, became part of the Department of the Treasury when that Department was established by an act approved September 2, 1789 (1 Stat. 65). The immediate office of the Secretary of the Treasury and, later, the Division of Customs-- created in the 1860s-- administered the Customs Service until the Bureau of Customs was created by an act of March 3, 1927 (44 Stat. 1381). The Bureau also assumed the functions of the Special Agency Service, successor to the Division of Special Agents created in the Secretary's Office in 1878 to supervise the activities of the special agents of the Treasury Department (first authorized by an act of August 6, 1846). An Executive order of February 28, 1942, transferred to the Bureau certain marine functions incident to the registry, enrollment, licensing, and admeasurement of merchant marine vessels--functions that previously had been administered by the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation of the Department of Commerce.
Other powers and duties vested in the Secretary of the Treasury and administered by the Bureau of Customs pertain to the importation and entry of merchandise into and the exportation of merchandise from the United States, the collection of tonnage taxes, the entrance and clearance of vessels and aircraft, the regulation of vessels in the coasting and fishing trades, and the protection of steerage passengers. It also assists other agencies in the export control program, in the physical control of persons etering or leaving the United States, and (after 1789) in the enforcement of restrictions on the importation of certain foods.
The records described in this inventory are those of the Bureau of Customs that were in the National Archives on December 20, 1968. They amount to 7,704 cubic feet and are for the period 1745-1954. They are designated as Record Group 36, Records of the Bureau of Customs. Included in this record group are records of the Customs Service, consisting of correspondence and other records relating to the collectors' administration of the duties of the Service as well as to their superintendence of lights in the early days (to 1852), their administration of local revenue-cutter activities (to 1871), their collection and accounting for moneys for marine hospitals and Public Health Service hospitals, and their administration of civil affairs in Alaska in the period immediately after it was purchased. Also included are fragmentary records of a few collectors in the Colonial, Revolutionary War, and Confederation periods and a few records created by the Customs Service of the Confederate States of America.
Records retained by the Bureau include continuation of the case files in the central office of the Commissioner of Customs. Continuing files of the transferred field records have either been retained in collectors' offices or transferred to the regional Federal records centers.