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Back to Archives | Back to July 2008 Contents 

FBI Celebrates 100 Years

n July 26, 2008, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The FBI started as a small group of 34 investigators and has since grown into a cadre of more than 30,000 employees, evolving right along with the changing threats facing the United States and the world.


The FBI originated out of need. By 1907, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was frequently calling upon Secret Service “operatives” to conduct its investigations.1 However, the investigators reported not to the attorney general but to the chief of the Secret Service. In addition, the use of Secret Service operatives by the attorney general created some concern with Congress; as a result, on May 27, 1908, Congress enacted a law preventing the Justice Department from engaging Secret Service operatives.

The following month, Attorney General Joseph Bonaparte appointed a force of special agents within the DOJ. Accordingly, 10 former Secret Service employees and a number of DOJ peonage (that is, compulsory servitude) investigators were made special agents of the department. On July 26, 1908, Bonaparte ordered them to report to Chief Examiner Stanley W. Finch. This action is celebrated as the beginning of the FBI.

Both Attorney General Bonaparte and President Theodore Roosevelt, who completed their terms in March 1909, recommended that the force of 34 agents become a permanent part of the DOJ. Attorney General George Wickersham, Bonaparte’s successor, named the force the Bureau of Investigation on March 16, 1909. At that time, the title of chief examiner was changed to chief of the Bureau of Investigation.

From this beginning, the FBI has developed into a worldwide investigative agency, with headquarters in Washington, D.C.; international offices (called “legal attachés”) in 60 U.S. embassies; 56 field offices located in major cities; and over 400 resident agencies in smaller cities and towns throughout the United States.

Of the bureau’s 30,341 employees, 12,590 are special agents and 17,751 are support professionals. The support professionals include intelligence analysts, language specialists, scientists, information technology specialists, and other professionals.


Asterisks indicate acting directors.
On June 1, 1968, Congress passed a law limiting the term of office for the FBI director to one 10-year term. The FBI director is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The 10-year term separates the appointment of the FBI director from the normal turnover of cabinet appointments that occurs with changing political administrations.

No FBI history can be written without reference to J. Edgar Hoover. On May 10, 1924, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone appointed the 29-year-old Hoover as acting director of the Bureau of Investigation, and by the end of the year, Hoover was named director. He is the longest-serving FBI director, dying in his sleep on May 2, 1972. Hoover died while still in office, having led the bureau for 48 years. Under his leadership, the FBI grew in responsibility and importance, becoming an integral part of the federal government and even a cultural icon. During his long tenure, numerous improvements began to aid law enforcement agencies at all levels: nationwide fingerprint identification, Uniform Crime Reporting, scientific crime detection, police training, the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin all serve as examples of the growth of this era.2 While there are numerous additional examples, only two are covered in this historical reference to the FBI.

FBI National Academy

Thirty-five cents a day was not much to live on in the Great Depression of the 1930s. But this was what one officer had to do to support his family at home while he attended the 12-week course at the National Police Academy in Washington, D.C. The 35-cent daily living allowance of this student illustrates the hardships that some of the students had to endure in the early days of the FBI’s police training school, now called the National Academy, to complete the first national postgraduate course in law enforcement.3

This new FBI police training curriculum was based on the FBI’s own special agent training, with new subjects added to assist local law enforcement officers. Director Hoover had designated Hugh H. Clegg, the assistant director for training, to work with an IACP Advisory Committee on Police Training to develop the National Academy. The first 23 students graduated in October 1935.

Today, the FBI National Academy conducts a 10-week school four times a year, with classes of some 250 officers taking undergraduate and/or graduate courses on the Quantico, Virginia, campus.

Today’s FBI

Mission: To protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence security threats; to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States; and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners.


  1. Protect the United States from terrorist attack

  2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage

  3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes

  4. Combat public corruption at all levels

  5. Protect civil rights

  6. Combat transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises

  7. Combat major white-collar crime

  8. Combat significant violent crime

  9. Support federal, state, local, and international partners

  10. Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI’s mission

FBI by the Numbers

  • 56 field offices

  • 60 legal attaché offices at U.S. embassies

  • 400 resident agent offices

  • 12,590 special agents

  • 17,751 support professionals

  • 30,341 employees

  • $6.04 billion annual budget
  • The G-Men

    The nickname “G-Men” came into use around 1934 and communicated the image of federal law enforcement agents. Before 1935, the federal law enforcement agency was called the Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, and Division of Investigation. Congress officially changed the name of the agency to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.

    The FBI and the IACP

    Robert Mueller, current director of the FBI, addresses the 114th Annual IACP Conference, October 15, 2007, in New Orleans, Louisiana
    Photo by David Hathcox
    On October 20, 1897, the IACP established the National Bureau of Criminal Identification at a nationally central location, in Chicago. In 1904, a watershed year for the IACP and the U.S. criminal identification system, the IACP held its annual conference in conjunction with the St. Louis World’s Fair. At the fair, the new science of fingerprinting burst onto the U.S. law enforcement scene with a display of exciting new promises. 4 In the following decades, the growth of this technique was so fast that the need of state and local police officials for a national repository and clearinghouse for fingerprint records became dire. Therefore, on July 1, 1924, the U.S. Congress officially established the Division of Identification and directed it to function under the Bureau of Investigation; the IACP files were then transferred to the bureau.5 Today, fingerprint identification is a part of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. The CJIS Division was established in February 1992 to serve as the focal point and central repository for criminal justice information services in the FBI; it includes the National Crime Information Center, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the National Crime Information Center 2000, and the National Incident-Based Reporting System.

    Another historic landmark of the relationship between the FBI and the IACP was the development of the Uniform Crime Reporting system. In June 1929, a draft of this system was adopted by members at the 1929 annual IACP conference. IACP representatives then appeared before the U.S. Congress to advocate legislation placing the operation of the reporting system within the Bureau of Investigation’s Division of Identification and Information. Congress agreed and passed the necessary legislation in 1930 to enable the Division of Identification and Information to collect the statistics that the IACP had begun to assemble.

    A link between the FBI laboratory and the IACP was Quinn Tamm. Tamm was appointed an FBI special agent in 1936 and assigned to the FBI Laboratory. From 1938 to 1954 he was in charge of the Identification Division. In 1954, Tamm became assistant director of the Laboratory Division and also held the assistant director position in the Identification Division and the Training and Inspection Division. Tamm had close contact with the IACP, and when he retired in 1961, he joined the IACP staff as director of the Field Services Division. Five months later, Executive Director Leroy E. Wike was incapacitated by illness, and Tamm became acting executive director. Confirmed as executive director in December 1961, he served the association for the next 14 years, retiring in January 1975.

    Today the IACP and the FBI enjoy a strong relationship. IACP members interact daily with FBI agents and their professional staff around the world. Local police and the FBI combat crime through task forces, joint investigations, and the sharing of information. FBI agents serve on IACP committees and sections; the FBI has a seat on the IACP Executive Committee; and the exchange of information between the organizations and among the membership has never been stronger.

    Origins of the FBI Laboratory

    The origin of the FBI laboratory is traced back to the 1920s. By 1930, the bureau began using outside experts hired for such work on a case-by-case basis. That same year, the bureau began a criminology library for the use of its agents and support personnel,1 and it took over the collection and publication of uniform crime statistics from the IACP. In its new agent training program, the FBI included expert lecturers on such subjects as “the use of the comparison of handwritings, the comparison of typewritings, the taking of fingerprints, the classification of fingerprints, moulage, ballistics and similar technical criminological subjects.”2 Clearly, the application of science to criminal investigations was becoming a bureau priority.

    One case has been cited illustrating the importance of the laboratory for the professionalization of law enforcement in the United States. Harrington Fitzgerald Jr., a mental patient in a Pennsylvania veterans’ hospital more than 100 miles away from his nearest relatives, opened and quickly sampled a box of chocolates from “Bertha.” Perhaps he thought the November 1933 delivery was an early Christmas present; if so, it was the last one he received. Fitzgerald died soon after eating the first poisoned treat. As the crime occurred on federal property, agents of the Bureau of Investigation investigated. Fitzgerald’s sister, Sarah Hobart, quickly became the primary suspect, and so agents solicited samples of her handwriting. These samples, along with the package’s wrapper and card, were sent to headquarters for analysis in the bureau’s new technical laboratory.3

    There, Special Agent Charles Appel, a meticulous investigator, received the evidence and began to compare the handwriting samples to the note card.4 He reported that the note from “Bertha” and the Hobart samples revealed no match. More analysis could be done, he suggested, if the investigating agents would obtain samples from Hobart’s husband and track down the family’s typewriter.5 Diligent detective work led Philadelphia agents to a typewriter Mrs. Hobart had conveniently sent in for repair at a local shop. Using samples of type from the Hobart machine, Appel quickly determined that it was the machine on which the mailing label on the package of poisoned candy was typed. Confronted with the evidence, Sarah Hobart confessed.6

    1Letter, Hoover to Special Agent Hardy, January 10, 1930, 80-11-1.
    2“History of the Bureau of Investigation,” by Charles A. Appel, November 18, 1930, typecopy by RCU/OPCA, FBI, 2/2002. Moulage entailed the use of a moulding compound to make exacting three-dimensional models of objects for comparison and courtroom exhibits.
    3Memo, Appel to Director, December 7, 1933, 80-11-276.
    4Charles A. Appel was born in 1895 and served as an aviator in World War I. He began duty on October 24, 1924, and served in the bureau until retiring in December 1948. From 1932 to 1948, Appel was assigned to the FBI’s laboratory, where he specialized in document examination. [67E-HQ-966]
    6Ibid. She was subsequently found to be insane and likely was not tried for the murder.

    Adapted from the FBI Office of Public Affairs, “The Birth of the FBI’s Technical Laboratory, 1924 to 1935,” April 2003,

    From a humble beginning with 34 agents, the FBI has grown over the last 100 years into a worldwide professional law enforcement agency. ?   


    1Before 1908, the DOJ had no organized force of investigators to gather evidence. It relied on detectives hired from the Secret Service and, for a while, private detectives. These investigators came from a reserve force that the Secret Service kept to help other departments as well as a list of some 300 other investigators who had applied for Secret Service positions and were already vetted by the Treasury Department but for whom no position was available. See John F. Fox, “The Birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Office of Public/Congressional Affairs, July 2003, (accessed May 19, 2008).
    2The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin began in 1932 as Fugitives Wanted by Police to foster the exchange of criminal identification data among law enforcement officials. Just three years after the inauguration of the list, the bureau’s Executive Committee recommended to Hoover that the name of the publication be changed to “FBI Police Bulletin” because of the number of articles that had appeared in it of interest to police, in addition to the listings of fugitives. Next to this suggestion, Hoover wrote, “Just a thought, instead of using police, how about ‘law enforcement.’” And so, the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin appeared in October 1935—for all the law enforcement community, not just police. See Thomas J. Deakin, Police Professionalism: The Renaissance of American Law Enforcement (Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1988), 181.
    3Ibid., 165.
    4Donald C. Dilworth, ed., Identification Wanted: Development of the American Criminal Identification System, 1893–1943 (Gaithersburg, Maryland: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 1977), 54.
    5Ibid., 164. Address by J. Edgar Hoover before the 1925 annual IACP conference, Indianapolis, Indiana.



    From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 7, July 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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