March 11

“The rush of office-seekers upon the departments exceeds anything of the kind ever before known. From all morning till late in the evening, Uncle Abe and each of the members of the cabinet are beset by men, women and children.”

Seal of the United States Government Printing Office.So said the Baltimore Sun of this date in 1861. It was describing Washington where voters of the good Republic wished to cash in on their loyalty to the winning ticket, in this case, the administration of Abraham Lincoln, just one week in office. There was another event on March 4, besides a presidential inauguration and news of Southern secession. That was the opening of a new government bureau called the Government Printing Office. It was very likely, then, that “many of those individuals importuning the Congress for employment during that busy and exciting week were printers.

The previous year, on June 23rd, President Buchanan had signed into law the organic printing act which stated, in part:

“[No. 25] Joint Resolution in Relation to the Public Printing.

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That the Superintendent of Public Printing be, and is hereby, authorized and directed to have executed the printing and binding authorized by the Senate and House of Representatives, the executive and judicial departments and the Court of Claims. And to enable him to carry out the provisions of this act, he is authorized and directed to contract for the erection or purchase of the necessary buildings, machinery, and materials for that purpose, said contract to be subject to the approval of the Joint Committee on Printing of the two Houses of Congress: Provided, That the sum so contracted to be paid shall not exceed one hundred fifty thousand dollars!’

At the end of 1861, John D. Defrees, the Superintendent of Public Printing, reported to the Congress that the new office had produced $550,887 of government printing, at a saving of some $60,000. The office employed 350 compositors, pressmen, bookbinders, and laborers.

The establishment of a government printing office had been a most controversial proceeding. For sixty years there had been congressional suggestions, resolutions, and investigations concerning the manner of executing printing for the government. A number of different methods had been tried out. Generally, both the Senate and the House had contracted separately for printing, but there had also been schemes in which the printing went to the lowest bidder. The problem was not always that the outside printers were becoming rich with fat contracts. Often enough the printers lost a great deal of money themselves due to their inability to cope with the delivery requirements of the Congress, which made unique demands upon its printers.

A hundred years after its establishment, the GPO has grown considerably, reporting for 1964 6,998 employees, and a total income for printing and binding services performed of $136,058,238. This is in startling contrast to the first report of the Public Printer, with its listing of but a half million dollar production in the first nine months of operation.

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