J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI


John Edgar Hoover was the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 until his death in 1972. He was the driving force behind turning that fledgling government agency into the great institution that the FBI is today. Hoover transformed the bureau by implementing extraordinary training and recruiting programs. The Hoover building in downtown Washington, D.C. is now the national headquarters for the FBI. During his time as director of the FBI, he built the FBI’s reputation as one of effectiveness and excellence. John Edgar Hoover was undoubtedly one of the most powerful American politicians during the twentieth century. Hoover has a controversial reputation of abusing his power; however, he did create the best investigative agency our country has ever known. J. Edgar Hoover was the person responsible for making the Federal Bureau of Investigation the effective organization it


is today.


Born in Washington, D.C., Hoover earned a bachelor of law and a master of law from George Washington University. He landed his first job at the Library of Congress. In 1917 he joined the staff of the U.S. Department of Justice, and two years later, at the age of 24, he was appointed a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General (DeLoach). His early efforts attracted the attention of his superiors and in 1924, the Honorable Harlan Fiske Stone appointed Hoover head of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (DeLoach). At the time, the ill-regarded Bureau was infected with scandal and run by hacks, ex-convicts and political appointees with little professional law enforcement experience.


John Edgar Hoover took control of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation in 1924. When Hoover took over, the Bureau of Investigation had approximately 650 employees, including 441 Special Agents. He immediately fired those agents he considered unqualified and proceeded to professionalize the organization (“J. Edgar Hoover”). The new Director was keenly aware that the Bureau of Investigation could not fight crime without public support. In remarks prepared for the Attorney General in 1925, he wrote, "The Agents of the Bureau of Investigation have been impressed with the fact that the real problem of law enforcement is in trying to obtain the cooperation and sympathy of the public and that they cannot hope to get such cooperation until they themselves merit the respect of the public" (“J. Edgar Hoover”). Hoover then set out to turn the Bureau into a well-trained and respected government agency.


One of the main fields of success that Hoover brought to the FBI was his comprehensive training programs for all agents. Director Hoover established the National FBI and Police Academy in Quantico, Virginia, still considered the best postgraduate course for law enforcement in the world (Cox 168). He also was responsible for creating the National Crime Laboratory, using the latest science and technology. The National Crime Information Center was also created to help federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies, along with the FBI’s Identification Division, which uses an ingenious system of scientific fingerprint identification and exact indexing designed by Hoover. Today, the FBI has on file more than 173 million sets of fingerprints, the largest collection in the world (Gentry 414). All of these institutions modernized and improved the FBI while greatly assisting its agents.


As the quality of Bureau employees improved, so did public confidence in the FBI. The importance of public relations was not lost on Hoover. He directed many of the Bureau’s activities toward areas of maximum public concern (Cox 137). Hoover spent the remaining years of the nineteen twenty’s attempting to establish the FBI as a powerful federal agency; however, at this point in time the FBI was almost completely an investigative agency. Special agents in the FBI did not carry firearms until they started to combat organized crime during prohibition.


More than anything else, the crime wave that swept through the Midwest beginning in 1933 vaulted Hoover\'s newly organized agency to prominence. A new anti-crime bill finally gave agents the right to carry firearms, serve warrants, and make arrests, and Hoover moved quickly to capitalize on his new powers. Fueled by a Depression-weary media, public interest in the exploits of colorful bandits with names like "Machine Gun" Kelly, "Pretty Boy" Floyd and "Baby Face" Nelson was at fever