What is the history of eSignature in the US?

Being a mark that verifies a signer’s identity and makes a document legally binding, signatures have been around since pre-Roman times. Despite different types and forms, it had and still has the same legal effect. The latest development — electronic signature, is no exception. Let’s find out when it appeared and how it’s different from its hand-written predecessors.

When did the first eSignature appear?

Signatures have come a long way from a scrawl on ancient papyrus to its modern electronic form. Here is a timeline that gives us a sneak-peek into the history of the signatures.
  • 50-55 A.D. — Tertius and Paul add their names to the letters in the New Testament.
  • 1069 — The earliest example of a signature (resembling a contemporary autograph) appears.
  • 1613 — William Shakespeare signs his Testament and Last Will.
  • 1677 — The Parliament of England passes the Act for Prevention of Frauds and Perjuriers according to which a signature becomes a requirement on certain contracts.
  • 1776 — President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, puts his signature under the US Declaration of Independence.
  • 1869 — Due to the New Hampshire Supreme Court decision, eSignatures sent by telegraph become accepted in courts and by the government.
  • The 1980s — Singed documents sent by fax become legally valid in many countries around the world.
  • 1996 — UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce is adopted by the United Nations.
  • 2000 — Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the USA, signs the ESIGN Act (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act) into law.

Why was eSignature legalized in the USA?

The history of eSignature and its legalization in the United States dates back to the turn of Millenium and is connected to two main laws: the ENSIGN Act and EUTA.
As we’ve already mentioned, the ENSIGN Act, or Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, was passed in 2000 and granted legal validity to eSignatures. The legislation contributed to a number of commerce-related laws.
EUTA (United Electronic Transaction Act) was adopted a year earlier, in 1999. According to EUTA, written records and signatures can be replaced with electronic equivalents provided all the parties agree to it.

In a nutshell, both pieces of legislation solidify the legal status of electronic signatures and records in commerce. However, it should be noted that in many countries there are certain categories of documents that are not subject to eSignature legislation. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to make sure the document you want to eSign doesn’t fall within the category of excluded types of documents.

eSignature vs. ink-and-paper signature: which one to choose?

Honestly, the best way to evaluate both of these signatures is to compare them side-by-side on a comparison chart.
Hard signatures eSignatures
  • Require all parties to physically sign the same paper.
  • Take up a lot of resources (time + energy).
  • Cost a lot, needing courier services, paper, printing, etc.
  • Lack security and are easily forged.
  • Need physical storage for hard copies.
  • Slow down document turnover.
  • Parties are free to sign from anywhere in the world.
  • The only things needed is an internet connection and a phone or computer.
  • Free trials and affordable plans are available to users.
  • Signatures are protected by two-factor authentication.
  • Digital copies can be accessed from anywhere when they are stored in the cloud.
  • Speed up document workflows.

How to sign a PDF document

Before signing an e-paper in Portable Document Format, it’s necessary to decide on the software tool you plan on using. airSlate SignNow combines reliability, ease of use and affordability all at once. With airSlate SignNow you can easily eSign a document you’ve received via email and return it to the owner without having to print or scan it. To get a full understanding of what that looks like, we added a simple guide below.
  1. Open the email you received inviting you to eSign.
  2. Read the whole document through attentively before making the decision to sign it.
  3. Click on the Signature field.
  4. Choose how you want to execute the document. There are several options: type your first and last name (adjust the font as you like), import an image of your signature or draw it right on the screen using a cursor, stylus or finger.
  5. Add the Signature field.
  6. Double-check the document to make sure you have filled out all the required fields.
  7. Complete the process by pressing Done.


Like it or not it’s essential businesses including ourselves as individuals adjust to present-day realities. These include going paperless and transferring document workflows. A signature, as an integral part of official agreements and processes, underwent a long journey to get where it is now. If you don’t already know how to integrate eSignature practices into your business processes, choose a company like airSlate SignNow dedicated to the growth and development of e-business. Save time, money and increase efficiency.
Yana Kryvosheina
Yana Kryvosheina
Digital content writer at signNow
May 13, 2020

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