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John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker (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. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modern innovations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Late in life and after his death, Hoover became an increasingly controversial figure. Some critics asserted that he exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI.He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,and to use illegal methods to collect evidence.It is because of Hoover's long and controversial reign that FBI directors are now limited to 10-year terms.

Early life and education

Hoover was born on New Year's Day 1895 in Washington, D.C.marker, to Anna Marie Scheitlin, who was descended from a line of Swiss mercenaries, and Dickerson Naylor Hoover, Sr., of English and German stock, and grew up in the Eastern Marketmarker. Annie's uncle had been the Swiss honorary consul general to the U.S. Hoover worked at the Library of Congressmarker during college and also became a member of Kappa Alpha Order (Alpha Nu 1914). In 1917 Hoover obtained a law degree from The George Washington Universitymarker. While a law student, Hoover became interested in the career of Anthony Comstock, the New York Citymarker U.S. Postal Inspector, who waged prolonged campaigns against fraud and vice (including pornography and information on birth control) a generation earlier.

FBI career

During World War I, Hoover found work with the Justice Departmentmarker. He was soon promoted to head of the Enemy Aliens Registration Section. In 1919, he became head of the new General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department (see the Palmer Raids). From there, in 1921, he joined the Bureau of Investigationmarker as deputy head, and in 1924, the Attorney General made him the acting director. On May 10, 1924, Hoover was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge to be the sixth director of the Bureau of Investigation, following President Warren Harding's death and in response to allegations that the prior director, William J. Burns, was involved in the Teapot Dome scandalmarker. When Hoover took over the Bureau of Investigation, it had approximately 650 employees, including 441 Special Agents.

Hoover was noted as sometimes being capricious in his leadership; he frequently fired FBI agents by singling out those whom he thought "looked stupid like truck drivers" or he considered to be "pinheads".He also relocated agents who had displeased him to career-ending assignments and locations. Melvin Purvis was a prime example; he was one of the most effective agents in capturing and breaking up 1930s gangs and received substantial public recognition, but a jealous Hoover maneuvered him out of the FBI.

Gangster wars

In the early 1930s, an epidemic of bank robberies in the Midwest was orchestrated by colorful criminal gangs who took advantage of superior firepower and fast getaway cars to bedevil local law enforcement agencies. To the chagrin and embarrassment of authorities, such robbers were often viewed as somewhat noble in their assaults upon the banking industry, which at the time was evicting many farmers and families from their homesteads. That empathy reached the point that many of these desperadoes, particularly John Dillinger (who became famous for leaping over bank cages and his repeated escapes from jails and police traps), were de facto folk heroes whose exploits frequently made headlines. State officials began to implore Washington to aid them in containing this lawlessness. The fact that the robbers frequently took stolen cars across state lines (a federal offense) gave Hoover and his men the authority to pursue them. Things did not go as planned, however, and there were some embarrassing foul-ups on the part of the FBI, particularly clashes with the Dillinger gang. A raid on a summer lodge named "Little Bohemia" in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsinmarker, left an agent and a hapless civilian bystander dead, along with others wounded. All the gangsters escaped. Hoover realized that his job was now on the line, and he pulled out all stops to capture the culprits. Hoover was particularly fixated on eliminating Dillinger, whose misdeeds he considered to be insults aimed directly at him and "his" bureau. In late July 1934, Melvin Purvis, the Director of Operations in the Chicagomarker office, received a tip on Dillinger's whereabouts. That paid off when Dillinger was located and shot outside the Biograph Theatermarker.

Due to several highly-publicized captures or shootings of outlaws and bank robbers including Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, and Machine Gun Kelly, the Bureau's powers were broadened and it was re-named the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker in 1935. In 1939, the FBI became pre-eminent in the field of domestic intelligence. Hoover made changes, such as expanding and combining fingerprint files in the Identification Division to compile the largest collection of fingerprints ever. Hoover also helped to greatly expand the FBI's recruitment and create the FBI Laboratory, a division established in 1932 to examine evidence found by the FBI.

Investigation of subversion and radicals

Hoover was concerned about subversion, and under his leadership, the FBI spied upon tens of thousands of suspected subversives and radicals. Hoover tended to exaggerate the dangers of these "subversives", and many times overstepped his bounds in his pursuit of eliminating that perceived threat.

The FBI had some successes against actual subversives and spies. However, in the Quirin affair during World War II, when German U-boats set two small groups of Nazi agents ashore in Floridamarker and Long Islandmarker to cause acts of sabotage within the country, the members of these teams were apprehended only after one of the would-be saboteurs contacted the FBI, confessed everything, and then betrayed the other seven men.Nevertheless, President Harry Truman wrote in his memoirs: "The country had reason to be proud of and have confidence in our security agencies. They had kept us almost totally free of sabotage and espionage during World War II".

Another example of Hoover's concern over subversion was his handling of the Venona Project. The FBI inherited a pre-World War II joint project with the British to eavesdrop on Sovietmarker spies in the UKmarker and the United States. It was not initially realized that espionage was being committed, but due to multiple wartime Soviet use of one-time pad ciphers, which are normally unbreakable, redundancies were created, enabling some intercepts to be decoded, which established the espionage. Hoover kept the intercepts—America's greatest counterintelligence secret—in a locked safe in his office, choosing not to inform President Truman, Attorney General J. Howard McGrath, or two Secretaries of State — Dean Acheson and General George Marshall — while they held office. He informed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the Venona Project in 1952.

According to documents declassified in 2007, Hoover maintained a list of 12,000 Americans suspected of disloyalty with the intention of detaining them and to do so by suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Hoover submitted his plan to Truman at the outbreak of the Korean War, but there is no evidence that Truman accepted the plan.


In 1956, Hoover was becoming increasingly frustrated by Supreme Courtmarker decisions that limited the Justice Department's ability to prosecute people for their political opinions, most notably, Communists. At this time he formalized a covert "dirty tricks" program under the name COINTELPRO.

This program remained in place until it was revealed to the public in 1971, and was the cause of some of the harshest criticism of Hoover and the FBI. COINTELPRO was first used to disrupt the Communist Party, and later organizations such as the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s SCLC, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and others. Its methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps, planting forged documents and spreading false rumors about key members of target organizations.Some authors have charged that COINTELPRO methods also included inciting violence and arranging murders.In 1975, the activities of COINTELPRO were investigated by the "United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities" called the Church Committee after its chairman, Senator Frank Church (D-Idahomarker) and these activities were declared illegal and contrary to the Constitution.Hoover amassed significant power by collecting files containing large amounts of compromising and potentially embarrassing information on many powerful people, especially politicians. According to Laurence Silberman, appointed Deputy Attorney General in early 1974, FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley thought such files either did not exist or had been destroyed. After The Washington Post broke a story in January 1975, Kelley searched and found them in his outer office. The House Judiciary Committee then demanded that Silberman testify about them. An extensive investigation of Hoover's files by David Garrow showed that Hoover and next-in-command William Sullivan, as well as the FBI itself as an agency, were responsible.

In 1956, several years before he targeted King, Hoover had a public showdown with T.R.M. Howard, a civil rights leader from Mound Bayou, Mississippimarker. During a national speaking tour, Howard had criticized the FBI's failure to thoroughly investigate the racially motivated murders of George W. Lee, Lamar Smith, and Emmett Till. Hoover not only wrote an open letter to the press singling out these statements as "irresponsible" but secretly enlisted the help of NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall in a campaign to discredit Howard.

Response to Mafia and civil rights groups

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 reporter 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. His moves against people who maintained contacts with subversive elements, some of whom were members of the civil rights movement, also led to accusations of trying to undermine their reputations. The treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr. and actress Jean Seberg are two cited examples.

Hoover personally directed the FBI investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedymarker. 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.

Late career and death

Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson each considered dismissing Hoover as FBI Director, but all of them ultimately concluded that the political cost of doing so would be too great.

Hoover maintained strong support in Congress until his death in 1972 from the effects of high blood pressure. Operational command of the Bureau passed to Associate Director Clyde Tolson. Soon thereafter, President Richard Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a Justice Departmentmarker official with no FBI experience, as Acting Director, with W. Mark Felt remaining as Associate Director. Being passed over to head the FBI is said to have contributed to Felt's decision to become the informant later referred to as "Deep Throat".


Hoover was a consultant to Warner Brothers on a 1959 theatrical film about the FBI, The FBI Story, and in 1965 on Warner Brothers' long-running spin-off television series, The F.B.I.. Hoover personally made sure that Warner Brothers would portray the FBI more favorably than other crime dramas of the times.

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) under Senator Richard Schweiker, which had re-opened the investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy, reported that Hoover's FBI "failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President". The HSCA further reported that Hoover's FBI "was deficient in its sharing of information with other agencies and departments".

The FBI Headquartersmarker in Washington, D.C. is named after Hoover. Because of the controversial nature of Hoover's legacy, there have been periodic proposals to rename it. In 2001, Senator Harry Reid sponsored an amendment to strip Hoover's name from the building. "J. Edgar Hoover's name on the FBI building is a stain on the building", Reid said. However, the Senate never adopted the amendment.

Personal life


Hoover was a lifelong bachelor and since at least the 1940s, unsubstantiated rumors circulated that he was homosexual.It has also been suggested that Clyde Tolson, an associate director of the FBI who was Hoover's heir, may also have been his lover.

Some authors have dismissed the rumors about Hoover's sexuality and his relationship with Tolson in particular as unlikely,For example,

"The strange likelihood is that Hoover never knew sexual desire at all."
while others have described them as probable or even "confirmed",For example,


and still others have reported the rumors without stating an opinion.For example,

Hoover described Tolson as his alter ego: the men not only worked closely together during the day, but also took meals, went to night clubs and vacationed together.
The exceedingly close relationship between the two is often cited as evidence that the two were lovers, though some FBI employees who knew them, such as Mark Felt, say that the relationship was merely "brotherly".

Tolson inherited Hoover's estate and moved into his home, having also accepted the American flag that draped Hoover's casket. Tolson is buried a few yards away from Hoover in the Congressional Cemeterymarker.Attorney Roy Cohn, an associate of Hoover during the 1950s investigations of Communists and himself a closeted homosexual, opined that Hoover was too frightened of his own sexuality to have anything approaching a normal sexual or romantic relationship.

In his 1993 biography Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover, journalist Anthony Summers quoted a witness, "society divorcee" Susan Rosenstiel, (who later served time at Rikers Islandmarker for perjuring herself in a 1971 case) who claimed to have seen Hoover engaging in cross-dressing in the 1950s; she claimed that on two occasions she witnessed Hoover wearing a fluffy black dress with flounces and lace, stockings, high heels and a black curly wig, at homosexual orgies.

Summers also said that the Mafia had blackmail material on Hoover, and that as a consequence, Hoover had been reluctant to aggressively pursue organized crime. Although never corroborated, the allegation of cross-dressing has been widely repeated, and "J. Edna Hoover" has become the subject of humor on television, in movies and elsewhere. In the words of author Thomas Doherty, "For American popular culture, the image of the zaftig FBI director as a Christine Jorgensen wanna-be was too delicious not to savor."Most biographers consider the story of Mafia blackmail to be unlikely in light of the FBI's investigations of the Mafia.Along these lines Truman Capote, who helped spread the rumors, once remarked that he was more interested in making Hoover angry than determining whether the rumors were true.

Hoover hunted down and threatened anyone who made insinuations about his sexuality. He also spread destructive, unsubstantiated rumors that Adlai Stevenson was gay to damage the liberalgovernor's 1952 Presidential Campaign. His extensive secret files contained surveillance material on Eleanor Roosevelt's alleged lesbian lovers, speculated to be acquired for the purpose of blackmail.

The opening of Soviet archives revealed evidence that there was a Soviet campaign to discredit the United States which used allegations of homosexuality to discredit Hoover. Recent use of reports of Hoover's homosexual activities and relationship in order to discredit him has been described by one reference as homophobic. Hoover's biographer Richard Hack, however, reported that Hoover was romantically linked to actress Dorothy Lamour in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and that after Hoover's death, Lamour did not deny rumors that she'd had an affair with Hoover in the years between her two marriages. Hack additionally reports that during the 1940s and 1950s, Hoover so often attended social events with Lela Rogers, the divorced mother of dancer and actress Ginger Rogers, that many of their mutual friends assumed the pair would eventually marry.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Washington Post revealed that Longtime Hollywoodmarker lobbyist Jack Valenti, a special assistant and confidant to President Lyndon Johnson was investigated by Hoover's FBI in 1964. The investigation, which was carried out despite Valenti's two-year marriage to Johnson's personal secretary, focused on rumors that he was having a gay relationship with a commercial photographer friend.

Possible African-American family connections

African American author Millie McGhee claims in her 2000 book Secrets Uncovered to be related to J. Edgar Hoover.McGhee's oral family history holds that a branch of her Mississippimarker family, also named Hoover, is related to the Washington, D.C. Hoovers, and that further, J. Edgar Hoover's father was not Dickerson Hoover as recorded, but rather Ivery Hoover of Mississippi. Genealogist George Ott investigated these claims and found some supporting circumstantial evidence, as well as unusual alterations of records pertaining to Hoover's officially recorded family in Washington, D.C., but found no conclusive proof. J. Edgar Hoover's birth certificate was not filed until 1938, when he was 43 years old.

Masonic Connections

Hoover was a "devoted" Freemason and was coronated a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Freemason in the Southern Masonic Jurisdiction. He was raised a Master Mason on November 9, 1920, in Federal Lodge No. 1, Washington, D.C., just two months before his 26th birthday. During his 52 years with the Craft, he received innumerable medals, awards and decorations. Eventually In 1955, he was coroneted a Thirty-third Degree Inspector General Honorary and awarded the Scottish Rite's highest recognition, the Grand Cross of Honour in 1965 by the Southern Masonic Jurisdiction.


  • In 1955 Hoover coronated Thirty-third Degree Inspector General Honorary and in 1965 awarded the Scottish Rite’s highest recognition the Grand Cross of Honour by Masons.

  • In 1966, he received the Distinguished Service Award from President Lyndon B. Johnson for his service as director of the FBI.
  • The FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, is named the J.marker Edgar Hoover Buildingmarker after him.
  • On Hoover's death, Congress voted its permission for his body to lie in state in the Capitol Rotundamarker, an honor that, at the time, had been accorded to twenty-one other Americans.
  • Congress also voted that a memorial book be published to honor Hoover's memory. J. Edgar Hoover: Memorial Tributes in the Congress of the United States and Various Articles and Editorials Relating to His Life and Work was published in 1974.


J. Edgar Hoover has been portrayed many times in films and on television. Some notable portrayals include:

See also


J. Edgar Hoover was the nominal author of a number of books and articles. Although it is widely believed that all of these were ghostwritten by FBI employees,See, for example:

Hoover received the credit and royalties.


  1. Documented in and elsewhere.
  2. U.S. Code Title 28, part 2, chapter 33. sec. 533, Confirmation and Compensation of Director; Term of Service (b)
  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation - Directors
  4. See, for example,
  5. See for example , and .
  6. Hack, 2007
  7. HCSA Conclusions, 1979.
  8. See for example
  9. Hack, Richard Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. (2007). Phoenix Books. ISBN1597775126
  10. 'Gay' Probe of LBJ Aide by Washington Associated Press at NY Post newspaper February 20, 2009
  11. Millie McGhee biography
  12. J. Edgar Hoover, 33, Grand Cross-Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity Cartha D. “Deke” DeLoach, Chairman, Hoover Foundation at Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry Magazine
  15. Full cast and crew for Bananas (1971) at imdb


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