Search for Agencies

Each Department has a special history page, in addition to the pages that its agencies create. Click to see a list of Departments in the drop-down box.

This page makes extensive use of the list of agency histories in SHFG’s web page “History at the Federal Government” We would like to thank SHFG for permission to use it. We recommend that you follow up your exploration of federal history with a visit to History@fedgov. It also includes links to the vast federal resources on American history.

Department of the Interior, headquarters building, 1852-1917
FAA Facility, Asilomar State Beach, California
NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Pacific Grove, California
Federal Courthouse, Austin, Texas
1878 U.S. Lifesaving Service Rehoboth Beach Station, restored in Lewes, Delaware
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Welcome to the Mosaic OF FEDERAL HISTORY!

The PEP ’s Agency Histories collection is a hub linking web pages that almost 250 federal agencies have created about their own histories. They form a complex and fascinating mosaic that documents the historical impact of these agencies on national life. Maybe you’ve come to explore this resource to learn more about an agency that had long-remembered effects on you or your family or friends. Perhaps at a wildlife refuge or national park, a Fish and Wildlife or Park Service ranger took time to tell you about the area’s protected plants and animals. Or maybe your granddad when he was young served a tour on a Coast Guard cutter on the Great Lakes, or your family encountered government agencies while trying to come into the country from overseas in the 1920s and 30s and became citizens.  These Agency History pages may provide, or steer you to, “historical news you can use,” and we encourage you to explore the stories they tell!

What Is an Agency?

Let’s take a moment to try to answer this all-important question. There are myriad government offices performing important work. Many are buried deep inside large organizations. Why are some set apart as recognized “agencies” and others remain virtually anonymous? If a part of the government has taken the trouble to create its own history page, perhaps it could be considered an agency. The Administrative Conference of the US (ACUS) takes a more systematic approach and states that at a minimum an organization whose leadership is appointed by the president should certainly be considered an agency. But the ACUS understands that there are many important federal bodies that do not meet that narrow definition. To reflect the vast scope of the federal government more accurately, therefore, ACUS includes many additional federal bodies and lists a total of 277 in its 2018 Sourcebook -- and that only includes the Executive Branch! The Federal Register listed 457 agencies in 2021; includes many more. But whatever list you consult, these organizations are all fascinating and worthy of study.

What is the Role of Federal Agencies?

While the president, the Congress, and the Judiciary make crucial decisions, pass key laws, and hand down major opinions, that is only one part of the federal government story. Those overall actions would mean little without the mosaic of agencies that turns laws and policies into reality at the grassroots level.

What Will You Find Here?

Fascinating and full of surprises, many of the histories linked here document in impressive detail the incredibly varied stories of almost 250 agencies since the nation’s founding. Who knew that Herman Melville once collected money for the government as the U.S. customs collector in New York City? Or that Frederick Douglass in the late 1880s was posted by the State Department as the resident U.S. diplomat in Haiti and Santo Domingo? Or that Rachel Carson, author of the bible of the environmental movement—Silent Spring—worked as a field biologist in the 1940s and 1950s for the Fish and Wildlife Service, visiting tide pools up and down the East Coast? Or that Woody Guthrie wrote folk songs while on the federal payroll in the late 1930s, celebrating the giant new dams of the Bonneville Power Administration?

How Can You Use This Resource?

While some of the history pages are very minimal, others contain rich files of facts, documents, and images, and you could lose yourself for hours exploring them. Not all the interesting sections or links may be obvious, so be prepared to poke around a bit to get the most out of a history page. If a page seems a bit sketchy, become your own historian and do research on the Internet and elsewhere to create your own agency history page. You might also take this as an opportunity to learn about the agency as it is today.


It’s probably impossible for one person to visualize the whole complex mosaic—or patchwork quilt or kaleidoscope—of the federal government. But as you explore the histories, one connected to the next, you will be creating your own mosaic of new knowledge, and maybe raise new questions and gain new appreciation of our national government.

To start you on your journey, we invite you to use the search tools provided on this page.

Good luck as you create your personal mosaic!