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J. Edgar Hoover

Hometown Advantage

Scandal and corruption—being bought off by criminals, particularly bootleggers, to look the other way—triggered reorganization of the bureau in 1924 and Hoover, at the age of twenty-nine, was named director. He set about establishing a world-class crime fighting organization. The first order of business was to reestablish and strengthen the chain of command. At the top of the agency was the Seat of Government (SOG), which was the Washington headquarters of the BOI, headed by the director and the assistant director.

He established a standardized system for all field offices and introduced personal standards for agents in dress as well as conduct. His special agents, known as "G-Men" (from government men), were ordered to wear the official uniform. This included a white shirt, dark suit, snap-brim hat, and a handkerchief in the jacket pocket.

Hoover obtained increased funding from Congress and proceeded to modernize the bureau. He built a world-renowned fingerprint identification unit, a pioneering crime laboratory, and a system for gathering and analyzing national crime statistics. In 1934, due to public reaction to gangster activity, Congress passed a package of nine major crime bills. These bills gave the federal government a comprehensive criminal code and Hoover's BOI a greatly expanded mandate, including counterespionage duties. The newly empowered bureau was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935.

Personal changes were occurring at home for Hoover as well. His father died in 1935 and Hoover continued living with his mother until her death in 1938.

President Harry Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) pulled the FBI back into domestic intelligence investigations in 1947 when he created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to deal with foreign intelligence. Angered, Hoover withheld cooperation, beginning a long history of animosity between the two agencies.

Hoover accumulated enormous power over the years, in part from his secret files that catalogued vast amounts of personal data on influential social and political leaders. The files, titled "Official/Confidential" (OC), were rumored but not The FBI's 1934 most wanted criminals included many members of organized crime. FBI Director Hoover became a national hero during the 1930s with the FBI crackdown on notorious gangsters. (© Bettmann/Corbis)
verified until after his death when his assistants destroyed them. He was a master of publicity and used everything from "junior G-man" clubs for boys, to his "ten most wanted" list, to the television series The FBI, to promote the Bureau. His power was sustained over the years by his uncanny understanding of the values, hopes, and fears of the vast majority of ordinary Americans.

As time passed Hoover became extremely sensitive to criticism, susceptible to flattery, and was feared both in and out of the bureau. His agents knew never to publicly criticize or embarrass the FBI or its director. Within the FBI, Hoover expressed his views on reports from assistants in bright blue ink reserved solely for his use. He would write in the margins of memorandums on all four borders around a typewritten sheet. Once an assistant filled the page to the edges so Hoover barely had room for a comment. He responded, "Watch the borders." Puzzled but obedient, his aides dispatched agents to patrol the Canadian and Mexican borders for a week.

Hoover became a national hero during the 1930s with the FBI crackdown on notorious gangsters. Then during the 1940s and 1950s he was well known for his anticommunist views with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an organization that relied heavily on information provided by the FBI. But Hoover began losing political support in the 1960s with his disregard for the Civil Rights movement.

The Civil Rights movement was a wide-ranging protest in the 1950s and early 1960s by private citizens contesting discriminatory laws against black Americans and city ordinances limiting their use of public facilities. The movement's civil disobedience strategies, including sit-ins blocking the access of others, boycotts of services, and demonstrations in the streets, led to direct confrontations with law authorities. Hoover's reputation was further damaged following revelations of his personal campaign to destroy civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s (1929–1968) career.

J. Edgar Hoover was director of the FBI from May 10, 1924, until his sudden death on May 2, 1972, at the age of seventy-seven. Both houses of Congress voted permission for Hoover's body to lie in the Capitol Rotunda for viewing by the public. Amid the eulogies, the Senate voted to name the new FBI building for the late director. J. Edgar Hoover was buried alongside his parents in Congressional Cemetery, just thirteen blocks from the row house where he had been born.

A Senate report in 1976 was highly critical of Hoover, accusing him of using the Justice Department to illegally harass political nonconformists in the United States. Many believed Hoover's long career included government abuse of authority and a disregard for individual civil liberties. Congress enacted legislation requiring Senate confirmation of future FBI directors and limited their terms to ten years.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawJ. Edgar Hoover - Born On Capitol Hill, The Justice Department, The Palmer Raids, Hometown Advantage