GPO and the Stars and Stripes

March 28, 2011

Because this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Government Printing Office, I’ve been trying to highlight some of its history by featuring some unusual Government publications with a GPO connection. How’s this for unusual: a newspaper that was not printed through GPO, not printed in the United States, and staffed by a number of distinguished authors and critics as well as a future Public Printer.  It took advertising, had 526,000 readers at its peak, yet only stayed in business for about a year and a half. It was, gentle readers, the original Stars and Stripes, the paper of choice for the American doughboys of World War I. (Stars and Stripes currently is published as a non-Government, DoD-authorized newspaper: http://www.stripes.com/customer-service/about-us).

Thanks to the estimable American Memory project of the Library of Congress, the entire run of the U.S. Army’s Stars and Stripes, published in France from February 8, 1918 to June 13, 1919, is available online for browsing. A special American Memory presentation, “A Closer Look at The Stars and Stripes,” highlights the contributions of such luminaries as New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross, drama critic (“Old Vitriol and Violets”) Alexander Woollcott, literary critic John Winterich, sportswriter Grantland Rice, and columnist and “Information Please” radio show panelist Franklin P. Adams (greatly admired in his day and now sunk without trace – who now remembers “The Diary of our own Samuel Pepys”)?  The “Closer Look” also examines soldier-authored material, censorship, and other issues affecting Stars and Stripes. Some of the doughboys’ poetry even transcends doggerel, although not always by much.

Finally, a roster of Stars and Stripes staff reveals the name of Augustus E. Giegengack – a euphonious cognomen, to be sure (hmm – I must be channeling Alexander Woollcott) –   the future Public Printer to whom I referred above. Sergeant Giegengack is listed as working in Circulation, but he started out in charge of printing the paper and expanded his reach to various circulation, delivery, and other tasks. As a poem in Stars and Stripes put it:

“Mail, wrapping, typing, couriers – his duties are a score,

Whenever we can think of it we’ll give him twenty more;

I often wonder how one man can handle such a batch –

When does this great executive get time to stop and scratch?

Nothing neglected, nothing slack

In the department Giegengack.”

After his discharge from the Army, the sergeant returned to the printing industry until his nomination as Public Printer by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, following which he ran GPO from 1934 until 1948 – the longest serving Public Printer in GPO history. He’s also the only GPO chief ever to be profiled in the New Yorker – a three-parter in 1943. He seems to have been both a colorful character and a very efficient GPO chief executive, and the profile is well worth seeking out (New Yorker subscribers can access it online). Many libraries also have extensive runs.

The Stars and Stripes was not only a fine newspaper, but perusing its pages takes one back nearly 100 years to see how the soldiers of the day viewed the war, their situation, and their country. (I wonder if many of today’s soldiers write doggerel?). Even the ads are fun to read! A product of the well-managed “department Giegengack,” it’s a paper that’s still readable and thought-provoking today, when the last American World War I veteran has just left us for “Over There.”


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