The Problem of Federal Printing

IN 1904 the expenditure of the United States government for all classes of printing amounted to $7,080,906.73. This heavy expenditure reflects the amount and variety of printed matter now used in the conduct of the federal government and also suggests the possibility of overliberality. Nearly half a century has elapsed since the last radical change in the printing policy of the government. During this long period, changing conditions, carelessness, or adherence to tradition may have opened the door to some unnecessary expenditures, either in the operation of the Government Printing Office or in the amount of printing required by Congress and the departments.

Twice President Roosevelt, in annual messages to Congress, has sounded a note of warning. Partly as the result of this, near the close of the last session of Congress, a joint committee was appointed to investigate the whole subject of official printing. This committee confronts problems of greater magnitude than ever have existed before in connection with federal printing.

The printing industry has not yielded to the tendency of the period toward combination of capital: there are no commercial printing offices in the United States worthy of comparison, in extent of plant, and amount of investment, with leading concerns in other and less important industries. It has remained for the United States government to equip and operate a printing office which, in capital invested, extent of plant, variety and value of product, and number of employees, compares favorably with the principal establishments in other industries, and far surpasses any other printing office in the world. So great is the capacity of this office that entire books have been produced in a night; and when emergencies arise in the government service, it is necessary to specify only the requirement and the time available, and the work is done.

Growth of Federal Printing.

The necessity for federal printing began with the First Congress, which assembled in New York in 1789. Proposals were then invited by joint resolution for the printing of six hundred copies of the Acts of Congress, and seven hundred copies of the journal. The early requirements in New York and Philadelphia, and later in Washington, to which place the government was removed in 1800, were, however, very insignificant. For the first half century of national existence, and especially during the first two decades, the bills, documents, and journals of the two Houses of Congress represented much the greater part of the official printing of the government.

The statutes relating to federal printing have been completely made over or amended in important particulars five times during the past century. By the joint resolution of 1819 a scale of prices was established, and each body balloted for its printer. With minor changes this method continued for twenty-seven years. Under the law of 1846 the clerks of the Senate and House were directed to secure bids annually for the printing needed. These bids were to be opened in the presence of the Vice-President and Speaker. This plan remained in operation for six years. It was expensive and unsatisfactory to the government, and ruinous to the contractors.

In 1852 the contract system was abolished and the office of Superintendent of Public Printing was created, to be filled through appointment by the President. The superintendent was to take charge of all public printing and advertise annually for bids for paper, but Congress returned to the custom of establishing a fixed scale of compensation and electing a printer for each body. By this time the limited facilities of Washington began to be severely felt. No one office was sufficient to handle the entire volume of federal printing, and dissatisfaction and inconvenience were general. Moreover, the scale system proved very expensive.

The next and inevitable change came in 1860, when Congress, by joint resolution, authorized the purchase of the principal plant in the city, building and all, for $135,000. This building still forms part of the old Government Printing Office and adjoins the new building. When purchased in 1860 it contained twenty-three Adams presses, three rotary presses, and about twenty tons of type. The job department was stated to consist of eighty-two cases of job type and nineteen “spittoons.”

Operation of the plant thus acquired began in the following March, but although new type and machinery were added at frequent intervals it was necessary for the Congressional printer to invoke the assistance of private concerns until 1866.

The Government Printing Office as now operated is therefore the result of years of slow and continuous growth. It is doubtful whether the present building and contents could be duplicated for less than $10,000,000. The principal building in which this great office is housed was completed two years ago at a cost of $2,500,000. It is 408 feet long by 175 feet wide, and is seven stories high ; it is equipped with fifteen elevators, a refrigerator plant, a filtration plant, eight 300-horse-power boilers, and three engines. The entire plant, including the old building, contains nearly sixteen acres of floor space. The equipment includes 300 tons of type, 60 typesetting machines, nearly 150 printing presses of all sizes, 600 individual electric motors, and ruling, folding, and binding machinery of bewildering variety and vast capacity. Connected with the establishment is an electrotype foundry said to have no equal in size in the world. It is capable of turning out 2000 electrotypes daily. Under the sidewalk is located a large storage vault for plates, with a capacity for 2,000,000 electrotypes.

The total number of persons employed in the Government Printing Office varies from 4000 to 4500, and the fortnightly disbursement for wages now amounts to nearly $100,000. The compositors alone number about 1200; they are divided into eight divisions, each of which by itself would be considered a large composing force. A distinct line of work is assigned to each of these divisions as follows : —

First division (day and night shifts), Congressional bills.
Second division, special catalogue and library work.
Third division, statistics and directory work
(Census, Blue Book, etc.).
Fourth division, legal composition (Supreme Court, etc.).
Fifth division, technical composition (Naval Observatory, Coast Survey, Nautical Almanac, etc.).
Sixth division, Congressional Record.
Specifications division (Patent Office Gazette,
Trade-Marks, etc.).
Job division.

The job work of the office requires a separate department employing about 150 compositors and including nearly 40 presses. Attached to the Printing Office are seven branch offices located in the Government departments. Each branch is fully equipped with type and presses. In two of these branches there are also complete binderies.

The immense quantity of material of all kinds consumed by the Government Printing Office in the course of a year is indicated by a few of the larger items. During the last, fiscal year there were purchased 6,366,955 pounds of machine book paper, costing $216,486.43; approximately 41,000 reams of supercalendered paper of varying sizes and 5000 reams of coated or “cut” paper, together costing about $150,000; 57,660 reams of writing and ledger paper, costing approximately $106,000; 39,270 pounds of printing ink, costing $23,008.68; 216,161 feet of leather, and 9423 dozen skins, costing $97,904.99; 8015 pieces of book cloth, costing $46,683.41; 5975 packs and rolls of gold leaf, costing $33,689.93; 1,393,350 pounds of binder’s board, costing $42,086.17; while the lithographs, engravings, and cuts purchased by the Public Printer from private contractors, for use in publications printed and bound in the government plant, cost $272,243.06.

Official Printing in other Countries.

The United States government has always been liberal in its use of printed matter, a trait it may be observed that is characteristic of American people generally. The rapid increase in the volume of official printing appears to have compelled the federal government to face and solve the problem of production by establishing a government plant long before a similar requirement arose in other countries.

Government-operated printing offices and binderies now exist in France, Austria, and Holland; in some other countries, as for example, Russia, official printing offices supply certain classes of work and serve only certain bureaus.

In France the Imprimerie Nationale, a bureau under the Ministry of Justice, meets the printing and most of the binding requirements of the French government. By a decree issued in 1889, French officials are compelled to place their orders for printing and binding with this office. Vouchers drawn by officials in favor of commercial printers are not honored by the treasury, except in connection with certain classes of stationery and binding which may be ordered of private contractors, although the national printing office will supply either when called upon to do so.

In Austria, the entire official printing and binding is produced by a bureau of the Imperial government known as the Austrian Court and Printing Office.

In Holland, the state printing office is under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, and meets the requirements of the Dutch government.

More than half of the printing and binding required by the Russian government is produced by private contracts, as it has been found that the expense is less when the work is done by contract than when the official printing offices are employed. The ministries of War, Interior, Finance, and Ways and Communications operate individual printing offices. The difference, however, between Russian official and private printing offices is not clearly marked. For example, the printing office connected with the Ministry of Finance, whenever not fully employed upon government work, accepts orders for private printing on the same basis as commercial establishments. So unsystematic is the method followed in Russia that it is impossible even to approximate the cost of Imperial printing. It may be observed in this connection that all the financial records of the Imperial government are about two years behind the current date.

Great Britain pursues a totally different policy in connection with official printing, and no material change has been made for many years. The British government employs Harrison and Company, St. Martin’s Lane, of which the famous firm of Ayre and Spottiswoode is a part, to produce the printing and binding for that government. The concern supplies the foreign office with a printer, who is known as a confidential man, and under whom are employed about thirty compositors sworn to secrecy.

The German Empire does not operate an official printing office. Such printing and binding as is required is supplied by private contractors, but one firm, that which prints the Official Gazette and the North German Gazette, secures most of the government work, and is therefore regarded in a general way as the official printer of the Empire. When bureaus or ministries require printing, they are at liberty to ask for estimates from private firms in Berlin or elsewhere, and to place the order as the results of the bids may indicate, or to disregard the bids, and for reasons of public expediency, or in order to secure rapid or careful work, to place the order with the printers of the Official Gazette.

In no country of Europe does the printing approach, in volume or in cost, the requirement of the United States, and in general the material used in American official printing is far superior to that used by foreign governments.

The Cost of Federal Printing.

No record of the expenditures for official printing during the earlier years of the federal government is to be found in the published transactions of Congress. It is possible that, the items of payments for printing are on record in the Treasury, but if such details exist they are not accessible. Printing,first mentioned in the appropriations for 1792, was generally included in contingent funds, and thus buried in the odds and ends of official expenses.

In the following table the figures for the early decades have been compiled by the use of known proportions, but it is believed they closely approximate actual expenditures. Moreover, the total amount expended during the first forty-three years of the government, the period for which exact figures are lacking, forms but an insignificant part of the aggregate expenditure to 1904.

The expenditure from 1890 to 1899 inclusive was 243 times as great as that tor the corresponding decade one hundred years earlier. If the present rate of increase in outlay for printing continues during the current decade, the total for the ten years from 1900 to 1909 will exceed $60,000,000,a greater sum than was expended for all federal printing from 1790 to 1880.


Decade. Total for each Decade. Per cent, of Increase.
1790-1799 $154,885
1800-1809 295,246 91
1810-1819 544,816 85
1820-1829 770,320 41
1830-1839 2,445,248 217
1840-1849 3,111,203 27
1850-1859 8,307,073 167
1860-1869 13,178,706 59
1870-1879 16,552,277 26
1880-1889 26,369,992 59
1890-1899 37,602,102 43
(1900-1904) 29,136,580
Total, $138,468,448

The increase in the cost of official printing during the century is somewhat more vividly shown by noting the increase in the per capita cost.


Year. Population. Cost of Printing. Per capita Cost.
1790 3,929,214 $8,785 $0,002
1800 5,308,483 20,322 .003
1810 7,239,881 31,675 .004
1820 9,638,453 71,723 .007
1830 12,866,020 141,144 .01
1840 17,069,453 207,238 .012
1850 23,191,876 344,831 .015
1860 31,443,321 866,868 .027
1870 38,558,371 1,609,859 .041
1880 50,155,783 2,034,750 .04
1890 62,622,250 3,124,462 .05
1900 75,994,575 4,905,881 .065
1904 81,213,321 1 7,080,906 .087

From this analysis it is evident that the per capita cost of federal printing has increased steadily during the century, and is now an item of considerable consequence. The accompanying chart shows the increase graphically by years since 1792. It will be observed that until the last decade the sharp advances occur about the first third, or at least in the first half of each ten-year period, and doubtless reflect the periodical expenditures for census reports. The most marked depressions coincide roughly with, or follow, periods of financial depression, thus suggesting the influence of general retrenchment.


It is important to fix clearly in mind at the outset the fact that the printing required by the national government is comprised in two general classes, — legislative and executive (departmental), — between which the total annual expenditures are about equally divided.

Legislative printing includes not only the great volume of journals, documents, bills, and reports connected with the movement of Congressional business, but also reports of the President and the heads of departments, and a great number of scientific, statistical, and historical publications authorized by Congress, most of which are annual and possess permanent value.

Executive, or departmental, printing comprises all the miscellaneous books, reports, pamphlets, and job work required by the various departments, courts, commissions, and bureaus. For the latter class of printing Congress allots specified sums annually to the Public Printer, upon whom a requisition is made for each piece of work. The former class is generally known as “publications printed by law or by authority of Congress,” and the latter as “publications printed or ordered by the executive departments upon requisition.” Unfortunately, it is not possible to make a complete separation of the two classes for purposes of analysis, as the publications of one are often utilized by the other.

In the following table an attempt has been made to classify the greater part of the printing and binding issued under the first of the two general classes referred to above. While the results are not altogether exact, they show clearly the lines in which increased expenditure is most pronounced.


Year. Reports and Messages. Eulogies and Histories. Scientific and Descriptive. Agricultural. Statistical. Industrial. Miscellaneous. Senate and House Documents.
1870 $295,821 $5,569 $5,514 $151,756 $3,137 $401 $35,205 $159,088
1880 111,563 58,932 59,460 227,786 6,864 13,510 17,316 225,820
1890 274,386 11,796 175,312 203,725 8,348 36,940 43,897 598,542
1900 312,898 65,226 362,633 357,060 78,661 72,077 76,093 976,689

The increase here shown in publications relating to scientific, statistical, and agricultural subjects would be even more striking if the publications in the second general class (departmental) were included.

No comparison with the cost of official printing in other countries is possible, because foreign requirements differ widely from our own, and the wages of employees bear no resemblance to the rates of pay for similar work in the United States.

For example, in France the total cost of the product of the official printing office in 1902 was 6,878,698 francs, — equivalent to $1,375,729.60; but the rate paid by the French government for composition is only half the rate paid for such work in the United States. Moreover, it is impossible to determine the proportionate share of the total cost borne by labor and materials.

Although the increase in the volume and cost of printing required by the federal government has been shown to have been in progress on a large scale for a century, it must be remembered that continuous increase alone does not prove extravagance. The use of printing in all the callings of life has increased by leaps and bounds, especially during the last half century. When the federal government began operations, printing was confined principally to making books, pamphlets, and newspapers. Business and professional men wrote their letters on blank sheets of paper, and in general let the printer alone. Now no form of activity is complete without a wide variety of printed matter. It is natural and proper, therefore, that the tendency shown in all private business should appear in the federal government.

It is not possible to determine whether the federal government is more liberal in the use of printing than the great commercial interests, but comparisons of federal and state expenditures for this purpose possess considerable significance. State printing is generally produced under some form of contract. In Nebraska and a few other states, boards of printing exist for the purpose of placing orders; elsewhere, as in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia, there are salaried officials who superintend the award ot contracts and production of work; California and Nevada operate state printing offices and binderies; Ohio operates a state bindery only. Opinions differ concerning the relative merits of a state-operated office and production by contract. As knowledge of this subject is local, each system is advocated by those familiar with it, and the merits of the two have never been intelligently compared.

In the following table are presented the expenditures for official printing and binding, for the years 1880, 1890, and 1900, in those states which were in existence in 1880. These figures possess much interest, although they are not exactly comparable. So many varieties of bookkeeping are employed that the items included under the terms printing and binding necessarily vary somewhat; moreover, the fiscal years are not uniform. There are but four states in which the legislature meets annually. In states having biennial legislative sessions, the average of the total printing for the legislative and next non-legislative year has been taken.


States. 1880. 1800. 1900. Per cent of Increase.
1880-1890 1890-1900 1880-1900
Alabama $6,025.79 $14,999.50 $17,711.95 149 18 194
Arkansas 19,642.96 21,273.57 11,470.47 8 —46 —42
California 95,891.06 134,836.72 122,432.08 2 41 —9 28
Colorado 6,000.00 7,441.86 30,009.93 24 303 400
Connecticut 26,552.20 40,421.20 52,074.09 52 29 96
Delaware 5,750.00 6,131.15 11,910.49 7 94 107
Florida 10,000.00 11,020.42 10,453.77 10 —5 5
Georgia 16,886.91 18,467.35 24,318.89 9 32 44
Illinois 39,716.92 58,804.49 60,381.42 48 3 52
Indiana 27,512.63 35,729.02 51,457.58 80 44 87
Iowa 37,145.72 49,725.49 49,039.83 34 —1 32
Kansas 27,778.60 88,856.16 94,847.71 220 7 241
Kentucky 18,363.18 64,549.98 22,346.09 252 —65 22
Louisiana 31,803.88 36.756.23 52,989.80 16 44 67
Maine 18,500.00 35,000.00 53,000.00 89 51 187
Maryland 25,874.27 25,426.19 37,151.52 -2 46 44
Massachusetts 73,468.44 167,197.16 234,749.11 128 40 220
Michigan 72,250.48 77.253.96 89,379.23 7 16 24
Minnesota 35,030.96 56,902.59 59,915.91 62 6 71
Mississippi 23,752.28 15.430.00 11,377.08 —35 —26 —52
Missouri 46,833.16 65,039.47 79,860.89 39 23 71
Nebraska 37,500.00 42,500.00 50,000.00 13 18 33
Nevada 12,267.92 11,216.71 12,703.80 —9 13 4
New Hampshire 20,261.26 19,937.95 22,578.17 -2 13 11
New Jersey 72,311.81 95,438.39 98,478.78 32 3 36
New York 145,610.79 177,098.64 654,330.53 22 269 349
North Carolina 11,110.49 19,729.46 26,595.89 78 35 139
Ohio 124,147.46 162,853.16 140,392.22 31 —14 13
Oregon 5,738.68 20,038.72 34,927.24 249 74 509
Pennsylvania 294,823.82 293,924.00 260,565.71 (—0.3) —11 —12
Rhode Island 11,488.44 27,347.06 52,493.49 138 92 357
South Carolina 15,377.50 23,320.23 14,349.32 52 —39 —7
Tennessee 6,042.65 7.546.28 8,136.38 25 8 35
Texas 36,000.00 58.000.00 35,000.00 61 —40 -3
Vermont 10,196.61 8,373.68 15,609.73 —18 86 53
Virginia 21,921.85 24,222.25 32,124.05 11 33 47
West Virginia 23,006.84 41.412.58 43,039.68 80 4 87
Wisconsin 48.764.51 54,531.60 62,120.30 12 14 27
Total $1,561,350.13 $2,118,653.22 $2,740,323.13 36 29 76

During the twenty-year period from 1880 to 1900, in eighteen states (nearly one half of the total number considered) the increase in the cost of official printing equaled or exceeded 50 per cent. For all the states combined the increase was 76 per cent. During the same period the cost of printing required by the federal government increased 141 per cent, or about double the increase shown for the states. If, indeed, New York be omitted, the increase from 1880 to 1900 for all the other states is only 47.3 per cent. It should be observed that from 1880 to 1900 a decrease in the cost of printing used is shown by five states, which, with one exception (Pennsylvania) are Southern states.

The use of printing is a habit, and variesgreatly in different communities. This is illustrated by the great disparity in the amount of printing which the different states regard as necessary. Tennessee, for example, required printing costing a little over $8000 in 1900, while New York required printing costing in excess of $650,000; therefore the proportion of printing to population was twenty times as great in New York as in Tennessee.

From this table it is easily possible to secure percentages of increase for different sections of the country according to the generally accepted geographic divisions, from which New England shows the largest increase, followed by the Middle Atlantic states. The Southern states form the only group showing a decrease in either of the ten-year periods, and show also the smallest increase in the twentyyear period. It must be remembered that conditions vary so greatly in different states that many of the more remote or less wealthy commonwealths are not entirely comparable with the more progressive and liberal federal government. It is interesting to observe, however, that when certain states, generally conceded to be the more prominent and wealthy, are considered, the difference in percentage of increase for them, as compared with that for all the states, is not very marked. In the following table are presented the percentages for geographic divisions and for nine important states (California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania).

Federal Government and States. Per cent of in crease in 1890 over 1880. Per cent of increase in 1900 over 1890. Per cent of increase in 1900 over 1880.
Federal Government 54 57 141
All the States 30 29 76
New Eugland States 80 44 108
Middle Atlantic States 10 78 95
Southern States 47 —8 36
Western States 39 5 46
Far Western States 45 15 67
Nine Principal States 27 44 84

The increase shown for the federal government cannot be regarded as abnormal, since high ratios of increase occur in the Eastern and Middle Atlantic states. Indeed, for the twenty-year period eight states show a percentage of increase as large as, or larger than, that shown by the federal government. It is evident, however, that the cost of official printing has been increasing during the past twenty years much more rapidly in the federal government than it has in most of the states. Should the increase continue at the present rate during the remainder of this decade, the annual expenditure for federal printing will reach $10,000,000 by 1910.

Costliness of Federal Printing.

Because of high wages and other conditions, some of which are within and some beyond the control of the Public Printer, the cost of public printing and binding has long been decidedly higher than the charge for similar commercial work. Indeed, if the plant of the government office — doing a business of $7,000,000 a year — should be suddenly transformed into a private commercial establishment, the owners would discover that the charges for product, although they do not include the usual and important items of rent, interest, and profit, are nevertheless from one and one half to ten times as high as the prices charged for similar work by printers who include the omitted items. The cost of composition and electrotyping does not much exceed the charge to customers made by the larger or higher priced commercial printing offices in New York, Boston, and Chicago; but the cost of presswork, ruling, and the folding and binding of books and pamphlets, is much higher in the government office than the commercial charges for similar items which include cost and profit combined.

It is practically impossible to secure from government employees the work — clerical or manual — that is expected and exacted from employees of private concerns. Many factors contribute to this result; it is quite apart from administration and politics, and probably never will be eradicated. The climate of Washington and the lack of commercial excitement — of the rush and bustle which key up the workers in the great industrial centres— contribute also to lessened product and thus to proportionately increased expense. This statement applies to every government office, but obviously for most of them there is no exact standard of comparison with commercial cost of production for similar work, such as exists for the Printing Office.

Within his field the Public Printer has a complete monopoly, for the law compels every official who requires printing, and has an appropriation to pay for it, to patronize him. He supplies estimates on work as a matter of information, but finally charges for each job whatever his records show it to have cost. This, of course, is ideal manufacturing, since with a perfect system of accounting it is possible to distribute against jobs every hour of productive labor. Generally a margin, sometimes large, must be allowed by a commercial printer for waste or unproductive time ; but with every hour of labor accounted for there can be no waste time, and general expense is therefore the only item to be met from surplus. Yet the Public Printer uniformly charges his official patrons 40 per cent profit on composition, a royalty of 10 per cent on all illustrations and paper, and a round advance over cost of labor on presswork and on all other classes of product. Unreduced by rent, bad debts, losses on unprofitable jobs, and waste time, which so torment the commercial printer, it is clear that the aggregate of surplus over cost of labor and material which goes toward the liquidation of general expense must be a large sum.

It is doubtful if there can be found in the United States a manufacturing plant employing one tenth of the number of persons employed in the Government Printing Office, in which the two highest officials are paid as little as the government pays the Public Printer and his Chief Clerk. The salary of the Public Printer (unchanged for twenty years) is $4500, or $84.54 per week. That of the Chief Clerk is $2750, or $52.28 per week. They are, therefore, probably the worst underpaid manufacturers in the country. A commercial enterprise of magnitude which thus neglected its president and general manager would invite failure.

With the exception of compositors and binding operatives, the wage-earners employed in the Government Printing Office receive in actual compensation little more than the average wages paid in commercial offices; but the additional expense of annual leave and liberality in the number of workers result in a higher rate of pay if considered from the employer’s standpoint. At the present time there is no piecework composition in the Government Printing Office; every compositor is paid fifty cents per hour for an eight-hour day. For several years prior to the establishment of the Government Printing Office, in 1861, the wages of “time ” compositors and pressmen were established by their “society” at $14 per week, for a ten-hour day. In February, 1863, the rate was advanced to $16; in December, 1863, to $18; in June, 1864, to $21; and in November of the same year to $24.1 The rate for compositors has varied somewhat since 1864, but for some years has been fixed at the rate mentioned. The contrast between the government scale for composition and the commercial scale is best illustrated by comparing the rate paid at the Government Printing Office for time work (which is practically the same operation all over the world) with the scale established in representative cities by the Typographical Union.


City. Weekly Wages. Total working Hours in Week. Rate per Hour.
New York $19.50 54 $0.36
Chicago 19.50 54 .36
Philadelphia 18.00 54 .33
Boston 16.50 54 .31
St. Louis 18.00 54 .33
San Francisco 19.00 51 .37
Baltimore 15.40 54 .28
New Orleans 18.00 54 .33
Washington 18.00 54 .33
Government Printing Office 24.00 48 .50
Carson City, Nev.(State Office) 27.00 48 .58

While the annual leave with pay, allowed by the government office, cannot be counted as a definite asset by the recipient, it is assuredly definite liability to the employer. If this item be included, composition costs the government approximately $26 per week. Hand composition in the Government Printing Office costs the customer 70 cents per hour; the maximum charge which the state of Pennsylvania allows its contractor to make is 40 cents per thousand ems, — about equal to an hour’s work. Although little more than half the federal charge, this low figure includes the contractor’s profit.

The scale of wages for composition in other countries is much less than the scale paid by either official or commercial employers in the United States. This fact simplifies somewhat the problem of the cost of official printing in foreign countries. It should be remembered that the scale of wages for composition abroad is not a uniform rate in each locality, as in the United States, but varies according to the skill of the compositor. The rates paid in 1903 in representative foreign cities, including Toronto, Canada, for the most skillful typesetters were as follows:


City. Weekly Wages. Hours of Labor in Week. Rate per Hour.
London Paris $12.00 50 $0.28
Commercial 7.80 60 .13
Imprimerie Nationale 14.00 60 .23
Berlin 7.80 54 .14 1/2
Vienna 12.00 54 .22
Lisbon 10.00 60 .16 1/2
Toronto, Canada (scale) 13.25 54 .24 1/2

The year 1862 was the first in which the Government Printing Office was in operation during the entire year. The general average hourly wage for all employees on time work was 20.1 cents. Computing the average for each tenth year thereafter from the reports of the Public Printer, an increase of over 100 per cent is shown in 1902, the figures being as follows: 1872, 42.8 cents; 1882, 33.2 cents; 1892. 36.5 cents; 1902, 44 cents.

It should be observed, however, that part of the increase in 1902 was due to placing all compositors on time work.

The proportionate cost of labor and the cost of paper have greatly changed during the life of the government office. Paper for the reports of the Seventh Census (1850) represented 50 per cent of the total cost; for the Twelfth Census (1900) 16 per cent. During the first eight years of the existence of the Government Printing Office the aggregate cost of paper was approximately as great as the aggregate cost of labor. The changes in relative importance of the items of cost are shown in the following percentages:


Years. Labor. Paper. Illustrations. Miscellaneous Material.
1860-1864 44 46 10
1865-1869 51 42 7
1870-1874 71 27 2
1875-1879 78 21 1
1880-1884 72 19 9
1885-1889 72 15 5 8
1890-1894 71 16 3 10
1895-1899 70 13 3 14
1900-1904 71 13 4 12

In 1860—61 the cost of labor formed less than half of the total expense, while paper and illustrations together formed more than half; in 1900—4 labor consumed more than two thirds of the total, and paper, illustrations, and all other supplies less than one third.

These interesting proportions clearly indicate the changes that have been in progress: the increased remuneration to, and probably more liberal employment of, labor; the decline in the price of paper; and the increasing volume and variety of supplies required to complete an expanding product.

It is not intended to suggest, even indirectly, that the compensation of employees in the Government Printing Office is too high. Whatever the arrangements and relations of labor may be with private enterprise, all will agree that if the government embarks in manufacturing, the wages paid should be high enough to provide comfortable support, regardless of what the scale for similar work may be elsewhere. Exceptionally high wages must necessarily result in higher cost of production, but it is reasonable to expect that this advance should be met out of the margin which the commercial printer allows for rent, interest, and profit.

The past decade has witnessed a marvelous advance in the printing industry. Every progressive concern constantly studies to secure the most artistic combination of types, paper, cuts, and colors. In this movement the great government plant has not participated until recently. Long after the leaders in printing had realized the artistic side of their historic calling and returned to simplicity and beauty of typography, the Government Printing Office remained in company with the cheap jobbers of the side streets, filling its pages with Noah’s-ark combinations of type. The mere fact that a publication was a public document doomed it to a cheap and homely typographical presentation. Happily this is now being remedied to some extent, but it is only within two years that modern faces of type and a few ornaments have been added to the government plant.

In mechanical excellence the government should be the leader, not the tardy follower of private enterprise, for the United States is perhaps the most extensive publisher in the world. In 1904, for issued fourteen periodicals,— three daily, three weekly, one bi-monthly, and seven monthly. It published volumes and pamphlets discussing almost a thousand different topics. This great range of subjects included history, diplomacy, biography, and military and naval operations in the United States and elsewhere ; statistics of all kinds, laws, finance, and the tariff; education; mineral resources, fisheries, and agriculture in all its branches, including the farmers’ habits, welfare, reading and prospects, the crops, insects, animals, and soil, the trees and plants of the United States and those of other countries adapted to growth here; medicine, ethnology, geology, and astronomy; coast and interior surveys, geographical research, and the progress of foreign nations in industries, arts, and sciences.

Many of these volumes are the product of divisions or of carefully organized and equipped bureaus, which have been created for the purpose of making research to be recorded in printed pages. The Department of Agriculture alone treats of approximately four hundred different topics annually.

The present system is the growth of nearly half a century, during which time publications of the executive and legislative branches have become interwoven, — the former acts as author and producer, and the latter provides the money and goes shares for the product. Readjustments are thus doubly hard to devise. The sundry civil appropriation bill annually appropriates an aggregate amount of money to be expended by the Public Printer, as it may be drawn upon by Congress, the departments and the various bureaus specified in the act, to the amounts allotted to each.

Under the last bill the specified “customers” of the Government Printing Office numbered twenty-one, as follows: —

Congress $3,035,645.82
State Department 35,000.00
Treasury Department 320,000.00
War Department 239,500.00
Navy Department 145,000.00
Interior Department 422,000.00
Smithsonian Institution 25,000.00
Geological Survey 215,000.00
Department of Justice 20,000.00
Post Office Department (exclusive of Money Order Office). 350,000.00
Department of Agriculture 160,000.00
Annual Report, of Secretary of Agriculture 300,000.00
Weather Bureau 25,000.00
Department of Commerce and Labor 320,000.00
Coast and Geodetic Survey 30,000.00
Census Office 150,000.00
Supreme Court of the United States 10,000.00
Supreme Court of the District of Columbia 1,500.00
Court of Claims 15,000.00
Library of Congress 185,000.00
Executive Office 2,000.00
Government Printing Office (annual leave to employees) 325,000.00

It will be observed that of the entire appropriation Congress reserved approximately half for its own requirements. This great sum is expended primarily for the Congressional Record, testimony before Committees, and bills and reports. Printing and binding of this character may be regarded as necessary features of the work of Congress, and in general not open to criticism; but a very large part of the Congressional allotment is annually applied to items prepared under the general order of Congress, but not under direct supervision, and in these abridgment or reduction might be claimed as reasonable.

Some of the items in this class for 1904 may be thus grouped: 3

The volumes specified in these tables are but a portion of the annual publications authorized by Congress. Their subjects, size, edition, or cost, one or all, suggest the possibility that saving in some details might be effected in connection with each of these publications without injury.

By the present system a quota of these volumes is assigned to each Senator and Member of the House of Representatives, although very few of the publications produced by the government are of interest to every section of the country. The following table, which covers the quotas of the publications “issued by authority of law ” only, for the year 1904, indicates the variety of subjects treated, and the immense number and the value of volumes at the disposal annually of Members of both Houses of Congress.4

It is no easy task to formulate a definite policy to reduce the volume of official printing so that reduction will not cause serious irritation and embarrassment. Mistakes in existing methods really begin with the appropriations: the estimates are made up so far in advance of the date when the money becomes available (nearly a year) that accuracy is impossible and generous computations are necessary. This encourages liberal expenditure. Moreover, the form of appropriation is injudicious: the Public Printer is authorized by Congress to honor the orders of various “customers" to the amounts specified; the balances, if any, unused at the end of the fiscal year, lapse into the Treasury, and, as one official expressed it, “are lost.” Money which is never seen, which is disbursed by another and unrelated official, and over which no control exists except the power to order expenditure, is not a matter of interest, and never can be made so. Congress seems more insistent in limiting the amount beyond which a department shall not go, than in encouraging the department to be as economical as possible within that limit.


Title. Number of Volumes. Number of Copies. Number of Pages. Cost.
Report of Secretary of War 8 29,440 2 5,810 $38,594.86
Report of Secretary of the Navy 1 3,680 1,294 8,382.29
Report of Postmaster-General 1 8,680 852 6,544.02
Report of Secretary of Agriculture 1 3,680 668 4,321.45
Report of Secretary of the Treasury 1 3,680 546 4,380.48
Report of Attorney-General 1 3,642 452 3,546.58
Report of Secretary of the Interior :
Commissioner of Education 2 77,360 2,568 61,474.30
Commissioner of General Land Office 1 3,680 776 4,896.36
Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1 3,680 640 4,756.88
Director of the Geological Survey 1 13,680 304 12,032.98
Report of the Comptroller of the Currency 2 21,360 2,798 33,034.15
Report of Interstate Commerce Commission (and appendices) 2 38,680 1,538 19,250.55
Report of Smithsonian Institution 3 32,040 2,020 57,990.85
Report of Weather Bureau 1 4,642 352 5,416.38
Report of American Historical Association 2 12,284 1,176 7,505.02
Report of Public Printer 1 1,642 310 2.111.22
Report of Civil Service Commission 1 23,642 312 7,828.60
Memorial addresses: Lincoln. Garfield, and McKinley 2 40,284 316 36,955.95
Eulogies :
Volumes commemorating deaths of 11 Senators and Members 11 95,062 3 866 29,517.68
Congressional Directory 4 eds. 73,408 468 26,692.58
Report of Librarian of Congress 1 5,642 600 4,883.85
Report on Diseases of the Horse 1 200,642 600 100,862.75
Report of Bureau of Animal Industries 1 30,642 656 19,833.70
Report of Division of Soils 1 17,642 842 66,524.05
Report of Director Experiment Station 1 8,642 758 8,496.17
Report on Beet Sugar Industry 1 90,642 184 11,622.95
Report of Governor of New Mexico 1 5,000 670 2,442.80
Report of Louisiana Purchase Exposition 1 15,000 60 1,768.21
Rebellion Record Atlas 1 1,350 73,362.85
Report of Bureau of Ethnology 1 8,642 462 18,497.60


Thalers. Ulb.
1. For tearing asunder with four horses 5 26
2. For quartering 4
5. For beheading and burning 5 26
7. For strangling and burning 4
8. For heaping the pile of wood and kindling 12
9. For burning alive 4
11. For breaking a man alive on the wheel 4
13. For setting up the wheel with the body twisted in it 2 52
19. For cutting off a hand or sundry fingers, and for beheading,—altogether 3 26
20. For burning with a hot iron 1 26
22. For beheading and placing the head upon a pike 3 26
24. For beheading, twisting the body in the wheel, and placing the head upon a pike,—altogether 5
28. For tearing a criminal before his execution with red-hot pincers, — each tearing of the flesh 26
31. For nailing a tongue or hand to the gallows 1 26
42. For the first grade of forture 1 26
44. For the second grade of forture , including setting the limbs afterward , with salve for same 2 26

To the publication of every volume issued by the commercial publisher there are two parties, — the author and the publisher. The former, with the pride of creation, considers that his manuscript is unquestionably worthy of publication. The publisher recognizes no pride of authorship, and accepts or rejects the volume upon its merits. Under the present procedure in official printing, the departments must be regarded as the author. But there is no check such as exists in the commercial world in the publisher; and the scientific bureau, organized perhaps to disseminate information, views the matter solely from the standpoint, and with the enthusiasm, of creation. Somewhere in the legislative or executive system there should be introduced a check to take the place of the cold-blooded publisher. It is obvious that Congress will not tolerate any interference with its own independence of action, yet Congress needs expert advice about every printing proposition that comes before it.

The waste in federal printing may be summed up as comprised in two general classes: that occurring from various causes in the conduct of the printing plant itself; that resulting from the publication of pamphlets and volumes either really not needed at all, or, if needed, issued too expensively or in too large numbers. Of these two classes of waste, that existing in the plant is purely a business matter, and can be remedied to some extent by following more closely the best commercial methods. That occurring in connection with the character and amount of product can probably be met permanently only by some form of supervision dealing especially with the three questions which should be considered with every proposed publication: the question of publishing at all, the question of economy in mechanical presentation, and the question of restricting the

size of the edition so as not to exceed the number of copies required by a wise distribution. Distribution, indeed, forms a perplexing problem by itself. The commercial publisher catering to a definite demand avoids dead stock by reprinting. With federal publications the tendency is toward only one edition and that a liberal one. Herein is the possibility of serious waste: people are always to be found who will accept any kind of a book if it costs nothing. Therefore distribution is limited solely by the number of copies Congress or government officials are willing to issue. The object of most federal publications could be attained at a very small part of the present cost if they were sent free only to libraries and public institutions, and certain important newspapers which agree to review them, and sold for a nominal sum to all others. Such a policy would be a radical departure from present procedure, — especially in the case of Congress, for little by little Senators and Representatives have become distributing centres and official book agents for literature on all subjects.

These are some features of the problem Congress must confront at the next session, when the joint committee makes its report. The present system dates in many particulars from 1861. Requirements, methods, and plant have all changed since that date. Unquestionably great saving is possible and spasms of economy may occur, but it is very doubtful if any large or permanent saving will be effected by ordinary legislation. The federal government is a vast machine; quite apart from waste, its legitimate requirements must annually increase. Indeed, the same general tendency has been shown to exist in the states. Close supervision of the most expert character could effect large saving, but obviously that is a difficult and delicate matter; therefore retrenchment is likely to take the form of horizontal cutting, certain to cause inconvenience, and after a period of interruption and agitation the upward movement will be resumed.

  1. Chief Clerk United States Census Bureau, and Expert Special Agent for Printing and Publishing the Twelfth Census.
  2. Estimated.
  3. Supplied by state authorities, or compiled from state reports.
  4. Average of 1901—2.
  5. Report of Congressional Printer, 1864.
  6. For tables, see following page.
  7. Report of the Public Printer.
  8. 3680 copies of each volume under this authorization.
  9. 8642 copies of each volume under this authorization.