The Quartermaster Department was organized in 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized a Quartermaster General and a deputy to serve the Army. The first Quartermaster General was Major Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania, who was appointed by General Washington. Until 1818, however, the measures introduced by the Quartermaster Department were temporary and usually limited to wartime.
Following the War of 1812, the Secretary of War obtained permission to reorganize the Army, and one of his acts was to establish a permanent Quartermaster General with a department in Washington. Brigadier General Thomas Sidney Jesup was selected to head the new bureau, which he guided until his death in 1860. (It was not until 1862 that retirement became available and not until 1882 that it was required.) Jesup was a wise choice, and he brought discipline and enthusiastic energy to his office. He needed both. His staff consisted of two Assistant Quartermasters with the rank of major, and twenty-eight Assistant Quartermaster with the rank of captain each receiving compensation varying from $10 the $20 a month, as the /secretary of War, Jesup had only six permanent clerks to maintain the office letter books, ledgers, etc. The number of items for which the department accounted, as well as the amount of contracts it let, are staggering. Yet the Quartermaster Department did it and did it well.
Like the rest of the Army, the Quartermaster Department suffered from either feast or famine. In times of war, it added staff and was given funds needed badly; in peacetime, however, appropriations drastically reduced the work the Quartermaster General deemed necessary. In the interim between the wars in Florida and Mexico, the budget of the army was extremely tight. In the fiscal year of 1844, only by the order of the Secretary of War were the Quartermasters at Philadelphia and New Orleans permitted to subscribe to one newspaper so that they might obtain shipping lists and current prices, knowledge of which was essential to the execution of their duties. The Washington office was allowed none-not even the newspaper that published the laws-and the Quartermaster General was forced to request that the Quartermaster at Philadelphia forward his newspaper to him, "when you have done with it."
Under such circumstances, construction periodically came to a virtual standstill. The stringent measures resulted in deteriorating buildings, and quartermasters were forced to rely almost entirely upon the soldiers for labor. When skilled labor was not available from the soldiers, the quartermaster was authorized to hire civilians who were specialized tradesmen, which included masons, turners, glaziers, and millwrights.