Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s visit to the Government Printing Office.
He remains the only president to have ever toured the facility, which is still located at its original location at the corner of North Capitol and H streets Northwest.
GPO employees are honored to stand in the same place that Lincoln stood, said Media and Public Relations Manager Gary Somerset.
The timing of the 1863 visit by America’s 16th president was no coincidence. In the third year of the Civil War, five months following the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln chose to stop by the two-year-old building at the request of the superintendent.
The Daily National Republican newspaper documented the Saturday afternoon visit, describing the scene where “vast machinery was adorned with floral garlands and hung with striped and starry standards.”
More than 350 employees welcomed Lincoln. Various departments were decorated with American flags and appropriate mottos, including one in the entrance to the congressional department that read, “Stand by the Flag — Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and separable — Abraham Lincoln, Welcome!”
Lincoln was presented with a bouquet by a young lady. She proceeded to thank him on behalf of her associates for his efforts to restore the “unity and peace to our beloved land.”
Following a round of songs, Lincoln bid the crowd farewell with a short speech in which he wished his supporters health, success and prosperity.
Lincoln shared a deep connection to the agency. Both celebrated inauguration ceremonies on March 4, 1861.
The printing office was an experiment by Congress to formally and intentionally inform Americans about the work done in all three government branches and the federal agencies. As a result, printing contracts with outside companies shrunk drastically.
In 1862, the year after the GPO opened, Lincoln discussed his intentions to free enslaved workers with his Cabinet. These July and September meetings were deemed of critical importance by historian John Hope Franklin. The GPO published the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, making it the first major document to be printed and distributed through the agency.
Since then, the GPO has been the means of publishing and disseminating government-related information. Currently 2,200 employees work for the agency in Washington and nationwide, though that number is the smallest in the last century.