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Department History

Since its creation in 1789, the Department of State has carried out a series of reorganizations and has created new offices and bureaus to deal with new diplomatic challenges.

This portion of our website contains a short history of the department, biographies of the Secretaries of State, a database of Principal Officers and Chiefs of Mission, and a history of the buildings of the Department of State.

The Department of State has grown significantly over the years. The first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, oversaw a small staff of one chief clerk, three other clerks, a translator, and a messenger and only maintained two diplomatic posts, in London and Paris, as well as 10 consular posts.

World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945) brought vastly increased global responsibilities to the United States as it emerged as a preeminent power. New challenges after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, included:

  • the newly independent states,
  • the global economy,
  • terrorism, and
  • the security of the American overseas presence.

To address these changing global circumstances, the number of domestic and overseas employees (not counting local employees) grew to:

  • 1,228 in 1900,
  • 1,968 in 1940,
  • 13,294 in 1960,
  • and 15,751 in the year 2000.

The number of diplomatic posts increased from 41 in 1900 to 168 in 2004 and continues to grow.