Culture and Society

How was the FBI created?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks

    HowStuffWorks

  1. The Department of Justice was always authorized to carry out criminal investigations, but it didn't always have the necessary funding and staff. Throughout the 1800s, government agencies commonly hired private detectives to investigate crimes. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt, in an effort to end a scourge of illegal land sales in the western United States, authorized Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte to hire a few detectives to investigate the matter. In 1909, these special agents, as they were known, became the founding members of the Bureau of Investigation. The decision to create a federal cadre of law enforcement agents was not without controversy; states were very protective of their local powers [source: FBI History]. At the same time, progress in transportation and communication across state lines seemed to call for federal coordination for some crimes.

    In its early days, the FBI investigated mostly banking, bankruptcy, land fraud and other infrequent federal crimes. Interestingly, the FBI first expanded when the government passed the Mann Act, which made it a crime to take women across state lines for immoral purposes (white slavery). The 1920s through early 1930s were considered lawless years, with much public disregard for prohibition. The Department of the Treasury had jurisdiction over illegal alcohol sales and imports, however, not the Department of Justice. In 1919, William J. Flynn, who had headed the Secret Service, became the first man to hold title of director of the Bureau of Investigation.

    By 1932, the Bureau of Investigation had hundreds of detectives and became known as the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. Just a year later, the Bureau changed its name to the Division of Investigation. The Division of Investigation underwent a final name change in 1935, becoming the Federal Bureau of Investigation. J. Edgar Hoover, the famous early director of the FBI, had worked with the department since 1917. He was appointed assistant director when he was only 26 years old. Hoover became FBI director in 1924.


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