By Iris Fan, Intern, Office of the Secretary, Office of Public Affairs
Today marks the 120th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce was originally the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, originating on February 14, 1903. Two days after its creation, President Roosevelt nominated his personal Secretary, George B. Cortelyou, as the first Secretary of Commerce and Labor. In 1913, the Department was separated into two, and William C. Redfield became the first Secretary of Commerce.
The Commerce Department became the youngest department and was charged with the shipping of domestic commerce as well as increasing U.S. manufacturing. Quickly, the department became home to some of the oldest agencies in the United States, including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Today, the Department serves as the voice of business in the Federal Government and continues to touch the lives of Americans every day. Commerce is now home to 13 bureaus and over 40,000 employees across the U.S. and around the globe, who work together to drive U.S. economic growth, improve America’s competitiveness, and create economic opportunities for all communities.
In honor of today’s 120th birthday, here are a few historical facts about the Department of Commerce:
- The construction of the Department of Commerce building started 10 years after the department was created.
- The Commerce building today forms the base of a planned federal triangle bounded by 14th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue.
- Two-to-four story stacks were installed in the building for storage of the Patent Office's more than three million patents which later became a patent-search room for the public.
- Stargazing equipment was installed on the roof for the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
- The oldest national aquarium in the Nation, opening in 1873, was housed in the basement of the Herbert Hoover building before closing in 2013.
- The Census Bureau, which occupied the south section of the building, was also located in the basement for intricate computing machinery.
- Herbert Hoover was the longest serving Secretary of Commerce from 1920-1928 before becoming President of the United States in 1929. The Commerce Department building was named in his honor in 1982.
- The first woman Commerce Secretary was Juanita Kreps, who served from 1977-1979. Today, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is now the fourth woman to hold that position and was nominated in 2021 to be the 40th Secretary of Commerce.
Click here to read more about the history of the Commerce Department. Click here to read more about the Commerce Department mission and the Commerce Department's 2022-2026 Strategic Plan.