On 9 November 1861, during the Civil War, soldiers of the Illinois 11th, 18th, and 29th Regiments, after forcing the Confederates south, set up camp in Bloomfield, Missouri. Upon finding the newspaper office empty, they decided to print a newspaper for their expedition, relating the troop's activities. They called it the Stars and Stripes. Today, the Stars & Stripes Museum/Library Association is in Bloomfield.
In World War I, the staff and roving reporters and illustrators of the newspaper were veterans of the newspaper world or, more frequently, talented young soldiers who would later become famous members of the United States media in the postwar era. Harold Ross, the editor of the Stars and Stripes, returned home to found The New Yorker magazine. Cyrus Baldridge, art director and principal illustrator, later became a major illustrator of books and magazines, as well as a writer, print maker and stage designer. Drama critic Alexander Woollcott's essays for Stars and Stripes were collected in his book, The Command Is Forward (1919).
Stars and Stripes was then an eight-page weekly, which reached a peak of 526,000 readers, relying considerably on the improvisational efforts of its staff to get it printed in France and to distribute it to U.S. troops.
In World War II, the newspaper was printed in several editions in several operating theaters. Again, both newspapermen in uniform and young soldiers, some of whom would later become important journalists, filled the staffs and showed zeal and talent in publishing and delivering the paper on time. Some of the editions were assembled and printed very close to the front in order to get the latest information to the most troops. Also, during the war, the newspaper published the 53-book series G.I. Stories.
After Bill Mauldin did his popular "Willie and Joe" cartoons for the WWII Stars and Stripes, he returned home for a successful career as an editorial cartoonist and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Former Stars and Stripes staffers also include 60 Minutes’ Andy Rooney and Steve Kroft, songwriter and author Shel Silverstein, comic book illustrator Tom Sutton, author and television news correspondent Tony Zappone, cartoonist Vernon Grant (A Monster Is Loose in Tokyo), Hollywood photographer Phil Stern and the late stock market reporter and host of public television's Wall Street Week, Louis Rukeyser.
The newspaper is the main printed source of news at the installations in Europe and Mideast and East Asia. Stars and Stripes has expanded to an average of 40–48 pages each day and is still published in tabloid format. The newspaper employs civilian reporters, and U.S. military senior noncommissioned officers as reporters, at a number of locations around the world.
Stars and Stripes newspaper is a non-appropriated fund (NAF) organization, subsidized by the Department of Defense. Unique among the many military publications, Stars and Stripes operates as a First Amendment newspaper under control of the Defense Media Activity (along with the Pentagon Channel and Armed Forces Radio and Television Service).
Stars and Stripes recently released its digital archives. Newspaper microfilm from 1943 to 2007 was scanned by Heritage Microfilm and integrated into an archives website.