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John Edgar Hoover Edit Profile

detective

John Hoover was an American detective and the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. He was appointed as the director of the Bureau of Investigation — the FBI's predecessor — in 1924 and was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 at the age of 77.

Background

John Edgar Hoover was born on New Year's Day 1895 in Washington, D.C., to Anna Marie (née Scheitlin; 1860–1938), who was of Swiss-German descent, and Dickerson Naylor Hoover, Sr. (1856–1921), who was of English and German ancestry.

Education

Highly competitive, Hoover worked to overcome a stuttering problem by learning to talk fast. He joined the debate team in high school, where he achieved some notoriety. Wanting to enter into politics, he worked for Library of Congress after high school and attended night classes at George Washington University Law School, earning his LLB and LLM degrees in 1917.

Career

As director, J. Edgar Hoover put into effect a number of institutional changes. He fired agents he considered political appointees or unqualified and ordered background checks, interviews and physical tests for new agent applicants. He also obtained increased funding from Congress and instituted a technical laboratory that conducted scientific methods for gathering and analyzing evidence. In 1935, Congress established the Federal Bureau of Investigation and kept Hoover on as its director.

During the 1930s, violent gangsters wreaked havoc on small towns across the Midwest. Local police were helpless against the gangs’ superior firepower and fast getaway cars. Syndicated criminal organizations were also amassing power in large cities. Hoover pressed for and received authority to have Bureau agents go after these groups under federal interstate laws. Such notorious gangsters as John Dillinger and George “Machine Gun” Kelly were hunted down and arrested or killed. The Bureau became an integral part of the national government’s law-enforcement effort and an icon in American pop culture, earning the federal agents the moniker “G-men.”

During and after World War II, the FBI became the nation’s bulwark against Nazi and Communist espionage. The Bureau performed domestic counterintelligence, counterespionage and counter-sabotage investigations within the United States, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the FBI to run foreign intelligence in the Western Hemisphere. All this as the Bureau continued its investigations into bank robberies, kidnappings and car theft.

During the Cold War, Hoover intensified his personal anti-Communist, anti-subversive stance and increased the FBI’s surveillance activities. Frustrated over limitations placed on the Justice Department’s investigative capabilities, he created the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. The group conducted a series of covert, and oftentimes illegal, investigations designed to discredit or disrupt radical political organizations. Initially, Hoover ordered background checks on government employees to prevent foreign agents from infiltrating the government. Later, COINTELPRO went after any organization Hoover considered subversive, including the Black Panthers, the Socialist Workers Party and the Ku Klux Klan.

Hoover also used COINTELPRO’s operations to conduct his own personal vendettas against political adversaries in the name of national security. Labeling Martin Luther King “the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation,” Hoover ordered around-the-clock surveillance on King, hoping to find evidence of Communist influence or sexual deviance. Using illegal wiretaps and warrantless searches, Hoover gathered a large file of what he considered damning evidence against King.

In 1971, COINTELPRO’s tactics were revealed to the public, showing that the agency’s methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps, planted evidence and false rumors leaked on suspected groups and individuals. Despite the harsh criticism Hoover and the Bureau received, he remained its director until his death on May 2, 1972, at the age of 77.

Personality

From the 1940s, rumors circulated that Hoover, who was still living with his mother, was homosexual. The historians John Stuart Cox and Athan G. Theoharis speculated that Clyde Tolson, who became an associate director of the FBI and Hoover's primary heir, may have been his lover. Hoover reportedly hunted down and threatened anyone who made insinuations about his sexuality. Truman Capote, who enjoyed repeating salacious rumors about Hoover, once remarked that he was more interested in making Hoover angry than determining whether the rumors were true.

Some associates and scholars dismiss rumors about Hoover's sexuality, and rumors about his relationship with Tolson in particular, as unlikely, while others have described them as probable or even "confirmed". Still other scholars have reported the rumors without expressing an opinion.

Interests

  • Other Interests

    Hoover received his first dog from his parents when he was a child, after which he was never without one. He owned many throughout his lifetime and became an aficionado especially knowledgeable in fine breeding of pedigrees, particularly Cairn Terriers and Beagles. He gave many dogs to notable people, such as Presidents Herbert Hoover (no relation) and Lyndon B. Johnson, and buried seven canine pets, including a Cairn Terrier named Spee De Bozo, at Aspen Hill Memorial Park, in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Connections

From the 1940s, rumors circulated that Hoover, who was still living with his mother, was homosexual. The historians John Stuart Cox and Athan G. Theoharis speculated that Clyde Tolson, who became an associate director of the FBI and Hoover's primary heir, may have been his lover. Hoover reportedly hunted down and threatened anyone who made insinuations about his sexuality. Truman Capote, who enjoyed repeating salacious rumors about Hoover, once remarked that he was more interested in making Hoover angry than determining whether the rumors were true.

Some associates and scholars dismiss rumors about Hoover's sexuality, and rumors about his relationship with Tolson in particular, as unlikely, while others have described them as probable or even "confirmed". Still other scholars have reported the rumors without expressing an opinion.