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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 an Administrative Timeline of the Department of State, 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.