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Home > About GPO > GPO History

The History of the Government Printing Office

Since March, 1861, GPO has occupied the corner of North Capitol and H Streets, printing and disseminating the documents of the U.S. Government. For most of its history, GPO was the largest printing concern in the world, and has been at the forefront of technological change. This site presents the work of GPO's history program, which documents over 150 years of Keeping America Informed.

GPO Official Histories

GPO's first published history --"History of the Government Printing Office"-- was privately published in 1881 by R.W. Kerr, a GPO official. Since then, two official histories were written in connection with major anniversaries: "100 GPO Years, 1861–1961: A History of United States Public Printing" was written for the centennial in 1961 and "Keeping America Informed: The U.S. Government Printing Office 1861–2011: 150 Years of Service to the Nation" was written in honor of GPO's 150th anniversary in 2011. Click on the buttons below to access the digital versions.


The permanent exhibit, entitled "Keeping America Informed: The U.S. Government Printing Office 1861–2011: 150 Years of Service to the Nation", tells the story of GPO service to the Nation.

The exhibit also features information on GPO's dissemination activities and work with digital technology.

Exhibit galleries are located adjacent to the GPO Visitor's Center, near the main entrance at 732 North Capitol Street NW and are open to the public Monday - Friday, 8 am - 4 pm. Special tours and night openings are scheduled occasionally.

Special Display: Lincoln & His Printers

"Lincoln and His Printers--GPO in the Civil War", is a display examining the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and the newly-opened GPO and its first head, John Defrees. Photographs, documents, interviews with Civil War experts, and original manuscripts on loan from the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress tell the story of GPO's first tumultuous years. The display, within the 150th Anniversary Exhibit, will run through September 2014. To view the exhibit brochure, click here. Click on the button to view the exhibit video.

Historical Photographs

GPO's collection of historic photographs is comprised of approximately 10,000 images in prints, negatives, and slides, as well as several hundred digital facsimiles spanning the period from around 1900 through 1960. More recent photographs are housed in various GPO departments.

This site has two collections of historic photos:

Printing History & Book Arts

GPO has and a major influence on American printing history and the book arts. Additional references on the history of printing and book arts can be found at the following sites:


GPO History Talks & Upcoming Events


For queries on GPO history, to request presentations, or to arrange access to GPO exhibits, contact George Barnum, Agency Historian:

  • Email address:
  • ph 202.512.1991
  • Standard mail:
    U.S. Government Publishing Office
    732 North Capitol St. NW
    Washington, DC 20401