Keeping America Informed – The U.S. Government Publishing Office – A Legacy of Service – 1861-2016

August 25, 2016

GPO_history_book_cover_4cThe new edition of the Government Publishing’s Office’s official history, Keeping America Informed, tells the story of GPO by casting a fresh, up-to-date light on the continual transformative history of the Federal Government’s publisher.

A rich pictorial record and well documented narrative of times gone by offers a compelling story about one of the Federal Government’s essential organizations.

Known as the Government Printing Office until 2014 and based in the heart of the Nation’s capital, GPO has carried out its constitutional informing function by producing a staggering number of official Government documents in printed – and, in more recent years, digital – formats for the use of Congress, Federal agencies and the courts, and the American people.

Over the past fifty years the dominant trend at GPO has been to incorporate and expand electronic information technologies to improve production efficiencies and make Government information more widely available than ever before.

Today, GPO has become a multi-faceted hub of digital publishing activity: smaller, leaner, and equipped with digital production capabilities functioning alongside still productive traditional printing equipment.

Keeping America Informed portrays a history of dedication by generations of men and women who made up its workforce. Not many Federal agencies can boast employees who make products every day for both official and public use as GPO can.

GPO’s story is of a Government agency working quietly in venerable, historic red brick buildings in the shadow of Union Station and the Capitol, through every historic event and period since the Civil War; thousands of dedicated men and women in highly skilled jobs; and a mission to assure that the work of the Government is broadly open to the widest possible audience.

It’s a story that is at the heart of how our Government works.


Shop Online Anytime: You can buy eBooks or print publications —with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide— from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore at

 Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Visit a Federal depository library: Search for U.S. Government publications in a nearby Federal depository library. You can find the records for most titles in GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.

About the author: Blogger contributor Ed Kessler is a Promotions Specialist in GPO’s Publication and Information Sales program office.

In FRUS We Trust: 150 Years of US Foreign Relations History

December 2, 2011

December 3, 2011, marks the 150th anniversary of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The FRUS series, which is produced by the State Department’s Office of the Historian, was first published in 1861 in the same year that the Government Printing Office was founded and is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy decision-making and major diplomatic activity. Researchers and students of foreign policy have relied on the series to provide a “road map” of various major U.S. Government archival sources for many years.

Image: FRUS Series 150th Anniversary. Source: State Dept. Office of the Historian.

The FRUS series now comprises more than 450 individual volumes. A staff of approximately 20 historians and editors at the Office of the Historian in the Department of State compile and prepare the volumes for publication.  More recent volumes published over the last two decades increasingly containing declassified records from all the foreign affairs agencies who participate in a declassification review if their documents are selected for inclusion in a FRUS volume.

What will you find in a typical FRUS volume?

The State Department’s Office of the Historian describes the contents of FRUS volumes:

Foreign Relations volumes contain documents from Presidential libraries, Departments of State and Defense, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Agency for International Development, and other foreign affairs agencies as well as the private papers of individuals involved in formulating U.S. foreign policy.

In general, the editors choose documentation that illuminates policy formulation and major aspects and repercussions of its execution. Volumes published over the past few years have expanded the scope of the series in two important ways: first by including documents from a wider range of government agencies, particularly those involved with intelligence activity and covert actions, and second by including transcripts prepared from Presidential tape recordings.

They go on to add that currently “volumes on the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations are now being researched, annotated, and prepared for publication.”

Contributing to an “Intelligent Public Opinion”

Although the FRUS was originally proposed as an unofficial Annual Report for the Secretary of State, its originators displayed very lofty goals for their now long-lived series.

In describing the history of how the FRUS series came about, Joshua Botts of the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State explains:

The covering memorandum to the Secretary transmitting the Order for Secretary of State Frank Kellogg’s approval explained that FRUS “ought to contribute to the promotion of interest in questions of foreign policy and in turn assist in the maintenance of an intelligent public opinion.

In short, the Department intended for FRUS to serve an important public affairs function in addition to satisfying demands from the academic community.

Image: Frank Billings Kellogg, 45th Secretary of State under President Calvin Coolidge, 1925-29. Source: State Dept. Office of the Historian.

Thus, the editors of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series act as the curators of American diplomatic history, sifting through our foreign affairs information to ensure there is a means for future generations of Americans to witness, decipher and interpret U.S. foreign policy decisions and actions.

150TH Anniversary Events for the FRUS series

1)      FRUS Research: To mark the 150th anniversary of FRUS, the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State assembled extensive research on how the evolution of the series fits within many important themes in U.S. history, including the transformation of government institutions, changing conceptions of national security and transparency, and the increasingly important role that the United States has played in the world.

2)      Upcoming FRUS Events:  As part of the FRUS series sesquicentennial, the Office of the Historian has also embarked on an outreach initiative with public events. Even if you missed the commemorative events held to date, you can consult the list of events to see if a recording is available.

Video Recordings of Past FRUS 150th Events

a) Foreign Relations during the Civil War Era: A Video Interview with Dr. Aaron Marrs, Office of the Historian, U.S. State Department, December 1, 2011.

 President Lincoln’s Cottage and the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State hosted a public program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Foreign Relations of the United State, the flagship publication of the Department’s Office of the Historian. Burrus Carnahan, noted Civil War and Lincoln author and scholar, interviewed Dr. Aaron Marrs, Civil War-era specialist with the Office of the Historian, on Marrs’ new research that sheds light on foreign relations in the context of the Civil War.  Video part one is available here and part two is available here.

b) A Weapon of Mass Instruction?:  Discussion with Office of Historian Staff Members and University of Virginia Professors, November 7, 2011. 

The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia hosted a discussion between Office of the Historian staff members and University of Virginia professors on how the U.S. Government has historically struggled to balance security imperatives with its commitment to transparency and democratic accountability.  Video available on Miller Center website.

c) Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: A Conversation on the 1955 Yalta Foreign Relations Volume October 12, 2011.

The story of the Yalta Foreign Relations of the United States volume is a Cold War tale of partisanship, of sensational global headlines and leaks, and of contentious debates about balancing security and openness … learn more about the Yalta papers by listening here to the discussion, “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire,” at the New York Public Library.

d)      Open Secrets: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know,’ and National Security: American Historical Association Panel,  January, 9,  2011.

To hear how the FRUS editors sort through questions such as how much the public needs to know, what should be kept secret, are secrets political, and how long secrecy lasts, watch this fascinating panel discussion on how a democracy balances the public’s right to know against the need for preserving national security. This panel was held on January 9, 2011 at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting and included a roundtable of historians from the State Department and National Security Archive. The panel discussion can be viewed on CSPAN video or Youtube video.

Figure: FRUS panel entitled “Open Secrets: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know,’ and National Security” at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting on January 9, 2011.

So from one 150 year-old to another, GPO wishes the Foreign Relations of the United States series a very well-deserved happy birthday!

How can you get copies of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series?

Alerts about new releases of the Foreign Relations of the United States series

1) GPO Email Alerts:  Sign up to receive email alerts from the U.S. Government Bookstore about new publications in the FRUS series.

2) State Department FRUS RSS feed:  You can also keep up-to-date about new releases in the FRUS series by subscribing to the State Department’s FRUS Series RSS feed.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.

9/11 at the Pentagon – 10 Years Later

September 6, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is almost here. It was one of those events, like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination, which remains in the memory with startling clarity. From where I was working in the Government Printing Office (GPO), we could see the column of smoke from the strike on the Pentagon. Later, after Federal Government facilities in the DC area closed down, I walked from GPO to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (I still remember a woman telling a Smithsonian guard that she had seen someone on the building’s roof – and who could tell what that meant in a world spinning out of control?) to meet my wife, who by some miracle got into the District and picked me up. On the way home, we drove past the Pentagon. It looked like the set of a disaster movie, the windows in the stricken area appearing as little orange rectangles of flame in a floodtide of black smoke. Several years later, after a reconstruction that left no sign of the horrific damage, I was in the Pentagon on business and our escort mentioned that we were walking in the corridor through which Flight 77 smashed – an awesome and saddening moment.

Several years ago, the Office of the Secretary of Defense published what must be considered the definitive story of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon. Pentagon 9/11 is packed with eyewitness accounts of the strike, the fires, the deaths, and the heroism of rescuers in the face of almost unimaginable disaster. It’s chilling to read eyewitness descriptions of Flight 77 flying into the Pentagon (more than 1,300 interviews went into the development of this book), and uplifting to find out how some badly injured staffers and outside rescuers helped others to escape the resulting inferno. As the book notes, “There could not have been as many survivors of the attack on the Pentagon without the persistent and selfless acts of others – military and civilian – who were themselves caught in the maelstrom or came unhesitatingly from elsewhere in the building to respond to the desperate circumstances facing the many victims trapped in the wreckage.”

Another chapter describes the efforts of firefighters to extinguish those orange rectangles of flame I saw that day, fed by thousands of gallon of jet fuel. Other sections cover medical treatment of the victims, securing the building, helping the survivors and the families of the victims, and the gigantic effort that allowed the Pentagon to be declared “open for business” on September 12. It’s a dramatic story, and Pentagon 9/11 tells it both factually and with compassion.

You can access this excellent book in multiple ways. To browse though it, go here. GPO still has copies of the first edition and will soon have a 10th anniversary edition with a new Foreword by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. You can also find an eBook version here. Finally, it’s also available in many libraries. Whichever format you choose, you’ll be rewarded by an unforgettable reading experience.

The Secret History of Invisible Ink, Part 2: Invisible Writing Made Visible

May 16, 2011

In my last post, I mentioned that the Government Printing Office (GPO) played an important role during World War II in preventing prisoners of war from using invisible inks to send intelligence back to the Axis powers. Here’s the story of that secret battle fought by the paper experts at GPO.

From late 1942 to mid-1946, the United States experienced an unprecedented influx of almost a half-million German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners of war. They were in a position to damage the war effort through attempts at escape and, based on prior experiences in World War I with German prisoners of war, the possibility of espionage.

Since the Geneva Convention mandated that prisoners of war could write home, significant information on prisoners’ locations and labor activities could be transmitted through the use of invisible or sympathetic inks made from such common substances as lemon juice, milk, washing soda, baking soda, starch solution, and even human urine. The Convention also severely limit­ed the use of heat and chemicals to detect secret messages on such letters.  The War Department turned to GPO’s  chemists (see photo above) for an answer.

After extensive tests, GPO’s experts devel­oped a paper base with a silicate or clay coating. The coating contained a powder or dyestuff that would react to moisture or any acid water solution by turning green. The paper was called Sensicoat. This paper’s heavy 56-pound weight, high cost, were negative factors, so GPO then developed a lighter, uncoated, and more economical paper, Analith. After this paper went into production, secret messages to the Axis were greatly reduced. It was a reduction noticed and acted upon by German intelligence.

American censors noticed something very interesting about packages of food and clothing addressed to German prisoners as 1944 passed the halfway mark. A small amount of putty-like material about size of a kitchen match head began to turn up in various places of concealment. Repeated tests showed that the putty-like material was a “dry ink.” After several conferences with the wartime Bureau of Censorship regarding this problem, GPO’s chemists began work on a new paper, bearing in mind that it also would have to retain its sensitivity to fluid invisible inks. The result was a coated sheet processed with a water-sensitive formula and with great sensitivity to the detection of all types of dry inks

By 1945, more than 29 million sheets of the new stationery had been ordered at $1.04 per thousand and GPO had blocked a potentially dangerous flow of in­formation toAmerica’s enemies. It was an achievement shrouded in wartime secrecy, but one gratefully acknowledged by those who knew about the technical difficulties involved.

For more GPO history, go here.

A Civil War Battle of the Books and the Battle for Washington DC

March 18, 2011

For the third year in a row, GPO is doing its own version of the NCAA basketball playoffs. This year’s theme, appropriately enough, given that GPO opened for business shortly before Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, is the Civil War. Since I’m a minor Civil War buff myself, I’ve blogged about several of the “competitors,” including Clara Barton: Clara Barton National Historic Site, Battle of Ball’s Bluff and, just a week or so ago, Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness.

A couple of the books in this year’s tournament are National Park Service Cultural Resources Studies, which are detailed assessments of a particular park’s history, cultural landscape, and historical materials. Monocacy National Battlefield: Cultural Resources Study is meaningful to me because I’ve visited that Maryland park a number of times over the years, beginning when it first opened to the public. As a GPO employee, references to Jubal Early’s 1864 raid, which actually penetrated as far as Fort Stevens in Northwest Washington, DC, remind me that GPO employees actually were mustered into service for a day or two to help defend the city. If Early’s force had arrived a day earlier, it could have been a disaster for the Union, but the hastily assembled force at Monocacy commanded by General Lew Wallace provided just enough delay to ensure the safety of the capital. Wallace, who was criticized, not altogether fairly, for his generalship at Shiloh in 1862, was credited by General Grant for blocking Early at Monocacy. Later, Wallace had the last laugh by writing what is arguably one of the bestselling novels of his century – Ben Hur. To add to his fame, during his post-war career as governor of the New Mexico Territory, Wallace met Billy the Kid, which ensured his regular appearance in movies and TV westerns – giving him a great deal more fame than many more successful Civil War generals.

Monocacy is also a beautiful park, with a walking trail near the Monocacy River and a neat little visitor’s center. Now that spring is on the way, I’m ready to walk those trails again. You can read more about the park itself here, browse the cultural resources study here, or get your own copy via GPO. The study is also available in libraries.

Above all, don’t forget to vote for your favorites at the Civil War Super 16 Tournament. After 150 years, it’s time for a rematch!

GPO, FDR, and The Malta Citation

March 4, 2011

On March 4, 1861 – exactly 150 years ago today – the United States Government Printing Office opened for business. On such an auspicious occasion, Government Book Talk examines a unique Federal Government document. Ordered by the President on the tightest possible deadline for a purpose of international importance, only one copy was created by GPO. It is also, as far as I know, the only GPO product ever reproduced in its entirety on a postage stamp. Here’s the story of the Malta Citation.

From 1940 to 1943, the British Crown Colony of Malta endured prolonged and brutal air attacks launched by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Axis was determined to bomb or starve the people of Malta into submission  to deprive Great Britain of a vital naval base and, in so doing, dominate the Mediterranean. Despite saturation bombing and near starvation conditions caused by submarine attacks on British supply convoys, the Maltese people carried on with exemplary courage until the Allied invasions of North Africa and Sicily ended this threat. To honor their resistance to Nazi aggression, King George VI awarded the George Cross to Malta and its people in recognition of an entire nation’s collective valor. In November 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided that America also should salute the people of Malta. He decided to visit the islands after the “Big Three” conference with Churchill and Stalin in Teheran and present the Maltese people with a citation that expressed the sentiments that Malta’s defense had inspired in the American people. The text was composed at the White House, but it fell to GPO to transform that text into an appropriate form.

The order for the Malta Citation was forwarded to GPO from the White House on November 15. Delivery was required not later than 3 p.m. on November 24 to meet the deadline for transport halfway around the world. The President suggested that the citation should be about 16 by 24 inches with lettering resembling that of medieval illuminated manuscripts. The details of color and design were left up to GPO. A complicating factor was secrecy. For reasons of security, the President’s visit to Malta could not be allowed to leak out. This combined need for speed, secrecy, and artistic excellence made the Malta Citation one of GPO’s most exacting and unusual wartime assignments.

The Malta project was assigned to GPO’s Division of Typography and Design. Its Director, Frank H. Mortimer, was given complete responsibility for the design and execution of the Citation. Because of the need for secrecy, and because only one copy was required, Mortimer decided to do the job by hand rather than experiment with type faces. He chose to work with genuine sheepskin parchment, feeling that its qualities of endurance and its capacity to retain freshness of lettering in both black and colored inks made it the most logical choice. He used steel and crow quill pens, drawing letters in the gothic style he had selected. Two sketches were prepared and submitted to the President, who chose the simpler version. Once the design was approved, Mortimer set to work. He used red and black inks for the 1-page text, with initials illuminated in blue, red, and gold. Pure gold leaf was used in the surrounding border, along with two fine lines of blue and red on the outside. An ornamental design consisting of the shield of Malta with the flags of the United States and Great Britain, all superimposed upon an aerial contour map of the main island, was placed above the text.

 To house the Citation, GPO’s Carpenter and Paint Shop produced a specially constructed case of solid, highly polished walnut, lined with royal blue plush. It was designed so that the right half contained the text while the left served as a cover. A weight to hold the parchment flat when the case was closed was placed inside the left half. This was produced in the GPO Bindery and consisted of laminated wood covered with dark blue morocco leather trimmed with lines in gold leaf and faced with the shield of Malta. Public Printer Augustus E. Giegengack personally delivered the completed citation in its case to the White House at 2:45 p.m. on November 24, beating the deadline by 15 minutes. On December 18 he received a letter from the President containing this tribute: “I wish to congratulate you and your craftsmen on the splendid workmanship displayed on the scroll which was presented by me to the people of the Island of Malta. It was very beautifully done, and I am sure we can all be proud of this product of our Government Printing Office.”

And the postage stamp? In 1956, Malta issued a stamp (left) that reproduced the Citation’s text, documenting  its importance to the Maltese and serving as a reminder of the huge variety and high quality of work that GPO has produced for the last century and a half. Happy birthday, GPO!

A Comic Book History of Printing

September 13, 2010

 When I started doing this blog, I assumed that I’d be talking about the work of other people – that legion of writers and artists who have been cranking out Government publications since the dawn of the Republic. Now here I am, almost six months later, getting ready to write about a publication that I scripted myself – a comic book, no less!

Squeaks Discovers Type: How Print Has Expanded Our Universe is the first comic book that GPO has ever created in toto, from the initial concept and design through its publication a couple of weeks ago. Why a comic book? Because we think that the story of printing, which is really the story of the profound impact of printing on the dissemination of information worldwide, needs to be better understood, especially in the context of a digital age. Although our comic book is aimed at kids, its message is for everybody.

When I was asked to develop a script for a comic book, my first thought was “Okay, I’ve never done this before – how do I come up with a concept?” Fortunately, I have two sons who always preferred playing video games to doing their homework – what an inspiration! An unwanted homework assignment, a new video game, a dream, and a journey through space and time – I had nailed down a concept, which for me was the toughest part of my job.

Once I sketched out the plot and wrote some initial dialogue, I turned the project over to my colleague Nick Crawford, GPO Creative Services Visual Information Specialist and amazingly talented artist. I explained the concept to Nick and suggested some kind of cute animal video game hero. He came up with Squeaks the Space Pirate and – let’s face it –  Squeaks is one cute mouse!

After lots of hard work on Nick’s part, I went through his layout and crafted additional dialogue around the gorgeous images he’d drawn, then conferred with him to iron out the glitches. For my part, it was an unprecedented collaboration with an artist, and one that went amazingly well – who said writers and artists can’t get along?! For more about how we developed the comic book, check out this video.

The result, Squeaks Discovers Type, is, I hope, a fun read that conveys some good information and sets printing in its proper place in history for kids of all ages. You can see more of the artwork here.

100 GPO Years Revisited

June 25, 2010

My agency, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), usually is more concerned with getting information from other Federal agencies digitized, printed, posted, and disseminated than in publishing our own books – that’s been our job in the Federal Government for almost 150 years. When we do publish something of our own, such as our Style Manual, about which I blogged awhile back, it’s worthy of note.

That’s my lead-in to 100 GPO Years, 1861-1961, published to mark GPO’s centennial. I’m sure it didn’t make a particular splash in the world of books back then, but it’s a rare and beloved commodity for those of us who work here, or used to. After a brief history of pre-GPO public printing, replete with scandals and corruption (and that’s why Congress decided to establish GPO), the book chronicles GPO’s activities year by year. The growth of GPO paralleled that of the Federal Government, spurred on by the Civil War, two world wars, the Cold War, the New Deal, the Great Society, and all of the other historical developments that gave rise to America’s present status as a superpower. For all of these momentous chapters in our history, GPO was there, printing the Emancipation proclamation, the declarations of war for both world wars, the UN Charter, and innumerable other documents of our democracy. Remarkably, though, we’re still at the same location as we were in 1861, at the corner of North Capitol and H Streets NW in Washington, DC. Instead of one small building, there are four large ones, as well as facilities nationwide.

On June 23, 2010 – the 150th anniversary of the congressional resolution that established GPO – a reprint of 100 GPO Years was a centerpiece of the kickoff of GPO’s sesquicentennial celebration.  It’s a facsimile reprint, but with a new Foreword, an excellent index, and a colophon that describes the typefaces of both printings. On March 4, 2011, 150 years to the day after the inauguration of both GPO and Abraham Lincoln (it was the first day GPO was open for business), GPO will publish a new history. Until then, you can learn a lot about us by reading the straightforward narrative and sampling our unique historic photograph collection in 100 GPO Years. You can read the reprint on our anniversary Web site or purchase a copy here. Soon it will be available in Federal depository libraries nationwide. If you can’t wait, you can find the original printing  in some libraries.

Happy birthday to us!


March 30, 2010

Welcome to the U.S. Government Printing Office’s (GPO) Government Book Talk! Our goal is to raise the profile of some of the best publications from the Federal Government, past and present.  We’ll be reviewing new and popular publications, providing information about new publications in the offing, and talking about some out-of-print classics. The goal is to spotlight the amazing variety of Government publications and their impact on ourselves and our world – and have fun while doing it.

 About the agency: GPO opened its doors on March 4, 1861 and is part of the legislative branch of the federal government.  GPO employees have been Keeping America Informed on the documents of our democracy, in both printed and electronic form, for the last 150 years.  The agency produces the Congressional Record, Federal Register, the nation’s passports, and other Federal Government documents.

About the blogger: My name is Jim Cameron (not the movie director). I’m a long-time GPO employee, working mainly for the agency’s publications sales program in the areas of writing, editing, and outreach, but I also have a good deal of  experience with the Federal depository library side of the house. I’m a serious book person – my wife claims that I own several thousand books, but I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. My interests lie mainly in the areas of history and biography – perfect for someone involved with Government books.

But, as they say, enough about me. I’d like this online conversation to be as informative and enjoyable as one we’d have in a book club. If you have thoughts about a post, more information about a topic, or ideas about books to discuss, let me know. I see this blog not as a single voice, but as a community of book lovers, be those books print or electronic. Let the discussion begin!

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