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J. Edgar Hoover

J.(ohn) Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 aged 77. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Late in life and after his death Hoover became a controversial figure, as evidence of his secretive actions became known. His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.[1] He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,[2] and to collect evidence using illegal methods.[3] Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power. Said one journalist in the 1960s, "Hoover does not have to exert pressure, he is pressure".[4]

Early life and education

J. Edgar Hoover was born on New Year's Day 1895 in Washington, D.C., to Anna Marie (née Scheitlin; 1860–1938), who was of German-Swiss descent, and Dick Naylor Hoover, Sr. (1856–1921), of English and German ancestry. The uncle of Hoover's mother was a Swiss honorary consul general to the United States. Hoover did not have a birth certificate filed, although it was required in 1895 Washington. Two siblings had certificates. Hoover's was not filed until 1938, when he was 43.[5]

Hoover grew up near the Eastern Market in Washington's Capitol Hill neighborhood. At Central High School (now Cardozo Sr. High), he sang in the school choir, participated in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, and competed on the debate team,[6] where he argued against women getting the right to vote and against the abolition of the death penalty.[7] The school newspaper applauded his "cool, relentless logic".[8]

He obtained a law degree from George Washington University Law School in 1916, and an LL.M., a Master of Laws degree, in 1917 from the same university.[9][10] While a law student, Hoover became interested in the career of Anthony Comstock, the New York City United States Postal Inspector, who waged prolonged campaigns against fraud and vice, and also was against pornography and birth control.

Hoover lived in Washington, D.C., for his entire life.[11]

View of Hoover's focus on organized crime

In the 1950s, evidence of Hoover's unwillingness to focus FBI resources on the Mafia became grist for the media and his many detractors, after famed muckraker Jack Anderson exposed the immense scope of the Mafia's organized crime network, a threat Hoover had long downplayed. Hoover's retaliation and continual harassment of Anderson lasted into the 1970s. Hoover has also been accused of trying to undermine the reputations of members of the civil rights movement. His alleged treatment of actress Jean Seberg and Martin Luther King, Jr. are two such examples. Hoover personally directed the FBI investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The House Select Committee on Assassinations issued a report in 1979 critical of the performance by the FBI, the Warren Commission as well as other agencies. The report also criticized what it characterized as the FBI's reluctance to thoroughly investigate the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the president.


  1. "J. Edgar Hoover", Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation, 2008, archived October 31, 2009.
  2. "Hoover, J. Edgar", The Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press, 2007, 6th edition.
  3. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition, Documented in Cox and elsewhere, by John Stuart and Theoharis, Athan G., 1988, Temple University Press, ISBN 0-87722-532-X}}.
  4. United States penetration of Brazil by John Knippers Black, 1977, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, ISBN 0812277201 page 1.
  5. Edward Spannaus, "The Mysterious Origins of J. Edgar Hoover", American Almanac, August 2000
  6. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition Documented in Cox, John Stuart and Theoharis, Athan G., 1988, Temple University Press, ISBN 0-87722-532-X.
  7. "The secret life of J Edgar Hoover", The Guardian, 1 January 2012
  8. Weiner, Chapter 1
  9. J. Edgar Hoover's GW Years, GW Today, published by GWU..
  10. GWU Alumni, Prominent,
  11. Enemies a history of the FBI (1st edition), By Tim Weiner, Random House Publishing, New York City, ISBN 978-0-679-64389-0, 2002. (Chapter = Anarchy)