J. Edgar Hoover

Hoover, J. Edgar (John Edgar Hoover), 1895–1972, American administrator, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), b. Washington, D.C. Shortly after he was admitted to the bar, he entered (1917) the Dept. of Justice and served (1919–21) as special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. In this capacity he directed the so-called Palmer Raids against allegedly radical aliens. Director of the Bureau of Investigation (renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935) after 1924, Hoover built a more efficient crime-fighting agency, establishing a centralized fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training school for police. During the 1930s, to publicize the work of his agency in fighting organized crime, he participated directly in the arrest of several major gangsters. After World War II, Hoover focused on the perceived threat of Communist subversion. In office until his death, he became increasingly controversial. His many critics considered his anticommunism obsessive, and it has been verified that he orchestrated systematic harassment of political dissenters and activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoover accumulated enormous power, in part from amassing secret files on the activities and private lives of political leaders and their associates. After his death reforms designed to prevent these abuses were undertaken. His writings include Persons in Hiding (1938), Masters of Deceit (1958), and A Study of Communism (1962).

See biographies by T. G. Powers (1987), A. G. Theoharis (1988), and C. Gentry (1991); D. J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981); K. O'Reilly, Hoover and the Un-Americans (1983); A. G. Theoharis and J. S. Cox, The Boss (1988); B. Burrough, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 (2004).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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