George Holbrook Baker was born in Massachusetts and apprenticed as a commercial artist with engraver George C. Smith in New York between about 1844 to 1847. He attended the National Academy of Design in 1848.
Baker migrated to California during the Gold Rush, leaving New York in January 1849. He traveled by rail to New Orleans and then by sea and land crossing through Mexico and up the Pacific coast, arriving in San Francisco May 28th. Baker kept a diary and wrote an account of his journey which was published in eastern newspapers. His sketch Port of San Francisco, 1849" was lithographed and published in the New York Tribune in August, 1849.
Baker mined for gold briefly, before moving on to other pursuits. From 1852 to 1862 Baker worked in Sacramento running several merchandising businesses; he also edited and published two periodicals, continued to sketch (mostly mining scenes), and made a series of woodcuts of California views. By 1855 he was involved in a publishing partnership with E. L. Barber, a wood engraver. Their association produced "Sacramento illustrated", one of the earliest pictorial histories of a Western city. Baker also owned and edited the Folsom "Granite journal" and Sacramento's "Spirit of the age".
He drew and published a large and detailed lithograph of Sacramento as it looked in 1857 (his account book listing subscribers and advertising costs is housed at the Soc. of Cal. Pioneers).
The floods of 1862 ruined him, and he moved to San Francisco. Baker moved back permanently to San Francisco in 1862, establishing a lithography and publishing firm. Specialized in posters, advertising cards, views of buildings, stock certificates, and maps. He did produce several views in those years. Baker continued as an artist and general lithographer at numerous locations in San Francisco until his retirement about 1890. He apparently invested in mining stocks and real estate during the 1860s and 1870s but lost money in the stock market. He also apparently lost ground professionally as, beginning in the late 1870s, the San Francisco lithographic trade expanded. Nevertheless, George H. Baker is still acknowledged as one of early California's leading artists and lithographers whose pioneering work documented the state's beginning years.
Baker's work includes a rare view of Camp Mohave, California, dated circa 1850 and a view of Fort Yuma, California, which may place Baker in the Southern California desert in the early 1850s.