Origin of the Term “Quartermaster”
Though the Quartermaster supply function is as old as the first army that took the field, the term “Quartermaster” seems to have come into general usage with the rise of standing armies in the 16th century. Derived from the Old French quartier and the Latin quartarius, the term literally means master of quarters.
In the standing armies of Europe, the Dutch called this officer kwartiermeester, while the Germans named him quartier-meister. It was not until 1686, however, that the post of Quarter-Master-General was instituted in the British standing army, replacing the more ancient title of “the Harbinger” that means one who went in front to provide lodging or quarters for those who followed.
Service with British troops in campaigns against the French and Indians made American colonists familiar with the important role filled by the Quartermaster. In 1775 when an American Army took the field against the British, General Washington appointed Thomas Mifflin, a 32-year-old Philadelphia merchant, as the first Quartermaster General.