“The individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous they cannot believe it exists. The American mind simply has not come to the realization of the evil which has been introduced into our midst.”
Secrets, secrets, secrets. That’s the best way to describe J. Edgar Hoover. We don’t really know a whole lot about the first director of the FBI, but he sure knew a lot about us. He may have modernized the Bureau, but he had unconventional techniques and tactics to get his end result. Keep reading to find out more about this incredibly private, and pretty particular, man.
He may have been born on New Years Day 1895, but his birth certificate was never filed until 1938! Oh, and the J? It stands for John.
Hoover began running the FBI when it was just BI. Yeah, seems silly, but it’s true. It was simply known as the Bureau of Investigation back in 1924, not adding Federal for another 11 years.
There’s a lot to be said about his techniques as the head of the FBI. Sure, he helped modernize the Bureau by introducing better training and increasing the scientific approach to investigation, but he also did things that were slightly illegal too, like wire-tapping and reading mail.
Hoover did a lot of things for his own benefit. If he didn’t like a certain group or organization, especially political ones, he did what he could to discredit them. He even went so far as to plant false evidence just to get his ideal outcome.
Hoover spent his life as a bachelor, never marrying. This fact led to much debate over his sexuality, which was a big deal back in his day, and could have cost him his job. Some of the rumors that came up about him: he liked to cross-dress, was gay, or just didn’t actually have a sex life, or that he had all-male sex parties in hotel rooms in New York City.
There was much speculation that he did, in fact, have a romantic relationship with FBI co-worker and associate director Clyde Tolson. These rumors swirled because they worked together for decades, travelled together for business and personal vacations, drove in to work together, had lunch everyday together and sometimes even wore matching suits. When Hoover died, the majority of his estate was inherited by Tolson.
Even though he was romantically linked to Tolson, he was also associated with a couple of famous women. The first was Dorothy Lamour, an actress, in the 1930s and 1940s. After his death, Lamour didn’t deny that they had a relationship. The other woman was Ginger Rogers’ mother, Lela. Many people who knew the couple thought they would end up getting married one day.
Despite the rumors of his sexual preferences, Hoover managed to convince President Dwight Eisenhower to dismiss any member of government believed to be gay in what was known as The Lavender Scare.
Hoover went to see the Wright Brothers fly their plane when he was 14 and even met Orville Wright.
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Hoover had a bit of an odd friendship—with Shirley Temple. He even took her around the FBI offices in 1938, and showed her how to ride a mechanical horse.
He didn’t really have a high opinion of women during his years running the FBI. He wouldn’t allow women to be agents, and if a woman did work in the Bureau, they could only wear skirts or dresses. Oh, and they weren’t allowed to smoke at their desks. Only men were given that privilege.
Hoover served in the FBI under six different Presidents: Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The only two he actually had good relationships with were the latter, Roosevelt and Johnson. The other four all considered getting rid of him, but he had a great image in the public, and was considered honest and competent.
If he really wanted to, Hoover could have been the ultimate blackmailer. He had files on over 430,000 Americans, many that were kept in his personal office where his secretary could keep an eye on them. Some of the more well-known names in his collection: Marylin Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Hellen Keller, The Grateful Dead, and Colonel Sanders. These days, you can actually take a look at these files (with a few exceptions), as they’re on display at the National Archives.
Hoover may have been blackmailed himself by the Mob. While the Special Committee on Organized Crime declared that organized crime was a real thing, Hoover adamantly denied this. It’s believed that Hoover was so against admitting to organized crime because the Mob would have exposed his true sexuality.
In the 1930s, contradictory to his denial of organized crime, he created a task force of “G-Men” who tracked down criminals like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and “Machine Gun” Kelly.
Because Hoover essentially abused the power his role afforded him, FBI directors can now only serve a maximum term of 10 years; Hoover was in as director for 48 years, from 1924 until his death.
Hoover attended George Washington University, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order. During his time at the University, he also worked at the Library of Congress.
After graduating from law school in 1917, Hoover didn’t enlist in World War I. Instead, he opted for a draft-exempt position in the Justice Department. Many see this as cowardice, but in fact, he was part of the cadet corps when he was in high school, even being the captain while in his senior year.
What’s more, in 1920 Hoover joined in a raid against L’Era Nuova gang in Paterson, New Jersey. Hoover himself interrogated the group’s leader and was able to get the evidence needed regarding the 1919 anarchist bombings.
While some called Hoover a coward, others speculated that he didn’t sign up to fight in the war because of he needed to care for his family. His father Dickerson Naylor Hoover, who suffered from mental illness, was forced from his government clerk position without pension, leaving J. Edgar to pick up the slack.
Hoover was pretty involved in his high school debate team, something that’s a pretty big accomplishment considering he had a stutter as a kid. While on the team, he argued against a woman’s right to vote and his belief in the death penalty. His school newspaper called his logic “cool" and "relentless.”
King George VI knighted Hoover in 1950, but Hoover was not allowed the use of “Sir" (the knighthood was an honorary title).
Hoover was a fan of horses. More specifically, horse races and betting. When he would go on vacation, he’d always look for the closest racetrack, and would often send agents to make bets for him.
Hoover served as a consultant on the TV series The FBI, which aired in the 1960s and 1970s. Episodes and cases were inspired by real events the FBI worked on. Hoover was pretty specific about the show, though, and made sure he had absolute final say on the script, which generally put the FBI in a positive light.
Hoover was given the credit and accolades for writing three books, but many believe they were actually ghost-written by other members of the FBI.
Something he never admitted publicly: he was a Republican. Hoover even helped one Senator, Joseph McCarthy, round up suspected Communists in the 1950s, providing McCarthy with information that President Truman’s government was helping over 200 members of the Communist Party.
His attack against Communists didn’t start in the 1950s, though. He was also a part of the first “Red Scare” in the early 1920s, having thousands of people deported on account of his belief that they had ties to Communism.
Hoover took a lot of the credit for solving one very famous kidnapping case: that of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son. A few months after the ransom was paid, the little baby’s body was found in the woods near the Lindbergh home, but it took another three years before the culprit was found. Hoover and the FBI claimed to have solved the case, though more likely it was the New Jersey police who did most of the work.
He may have been a slightly terrifying man, but he did love dogs. His parents gave him his first dog when he was a child, and went on to have at least seven more. He was even known to give dogs as gifts to Presidents Herbert Hoover (who was of no relation) and Lyndon B. Johnson.
There was some speculation that Hoover was either half black, or was born to a black mother and then raised by the Hoovers. It seems pretty silly, but when author Millie McGhee released her book Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover—Passing for White? in 1998, she revealed that Hoover and herself shared a common ancestor, a great-grandfather, and McGhee is black herself. On Hoover’s father’s side, the family came from Virginia and Mississippi at a time when interracial relationships were pretty common.
This feels a little creepy, but in the 1960s, the LAPD talked to countless young men in an effort to find the area’s pedophiles. Hoover spent some time every summer in the Los Angeles, and the young men brought his name up when talking to the police. The investigator, Don Smith, said, “The kids brought up several famous names, including those of Hoover and his sidekick [Tolson].”
Hoover almost always wore one specific item of women’s attire—and he refused to talk about it. He preferred to wear women’s perfume over men’s cologne. He never talked about it, so the reason or reasons why are still up in the air.
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