Historical Context

Historical Context

The FBI (or the Bureau of Investigation as it was called then) was established in 1908 at a time when there were very few federal crimes. Many of these first agents came from a law enforcement background but received no formal training from the FBI. The role of the Bureau started to shift during WWI, when it took on the task of investigating of those deemed “enemy aliens”.1 This period during and after WWI was when the first Red Scare took place. So many of the people that the FBI was investigating had some sort of connection to the Communist Party and were often foreigners. Following WWI, the Bureau reverted back to the task of enforcing the few federal crimes.

As the US moved into the 1920’s, the rates of crime started to rise, due to disregard for prohibition as well as more organized crime groups.2 These shifts in crime led changes to be made in the Bureau, and was around the time when Hoover was picked to head up the Bureau in 1924.3 As the new head of the Bureau, Hoover implemented changes such as formal training, expansion of field offices, and overall professionalization of the organization.4

The emergence of the Great Depression created more criminals and criminal activity, which propelled Hoover’s changes to the FBI even further as the FBI had to take on a larger role in society. In addition to the rise in crime, the FBI was also tasked with dealing with threats to US democracy. Namely the fascism and communism that was emerging in Europe during this time. These threats (though not new to the US) prompted the FBI and particularly Hoover in targeting those who the Bureau believed posed a viable threat to the American way of life.5

This brief overview of the earlier years of the FBI gives a glimpse into the glory years of Hoover. These different threats and changes allowed him to create a much different FBI than when it started out.

1 FBI History, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed November 13, 2022,

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.