J. Edgar Hoover: The Man Behind the Desk
J. Edgar Hoover: The Man Behind the Desk

About J. Edgar Hoover

One of the most influential and controversial figures in law enforcement history, J. Edgar Hoover was Director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the Federal Bureau of Investigation) from 1924 until his death in 1972. His insistence on well-educated, well-dressed, professional agents combined with his focus on using science to solve crimes helped usher in a new way of policing in America. At the same time, Hoover’s obsession with ridding the nation of anyone whose thoughts and activities he considered “un-American” led to the use of some questionable, and possibly illegal, investigative techniques. All this to say – J. Edgar Hoover was a complicated individual. Unraveling the real person from the stories, myths, and legends might be impossible, but there are few clues left that give some insight into the person, and not just the Director.

Thanks to the generous donation of artifacts from The J. Edgar Hoover Foundation, the National Law Enforcement Museum is pleased to present objects from Hoover’s estate that reveal a side of this man that is unfamiliar to many. Beyond the Bureau, who was Hoover, and what was he about? This unique collection offers a glimpse into what the man behind the desk was like outside the office.

Hoover’s childhood home, 413 Seward Square SE, Washington, DC, c. 1900
Hoover’s childhood home, 413 Seward Square SE, Washington, DC, c. 1900

Before the FBI

Born in 1895 to Anna Marie and Dickerson Naylor Hoover, John Edgar was a native of Washington, DC, where he lived his entire life. He had two older siblings, but both moved out when he was young, leaving him alone with his parents. Hoover was an engaged citizen from an early age, keeping a journal and writing a weekly newsletter for his neighbors as a kid. He excelled in school, especially on the debate team, and loved being a member of his high school’s cadet corps, a junior ROTC program.

J. Edgar’s Dad, Dickerson Hoover, c. 1900
J. Edgar’s Dad, Dickerson Hoover, c. 1900

Annie Hoover, J. Edgar’s Mom, c. 1935
Annie Hoover, J. Edgar’s Mom, c. 1935


J. Edgar (age 12) with his bicycle, c. 1907
J. Edgar (age 12) with his bicycle, c. 1907


High School report card from 1911-1912 school year
High School report card from 1911-1912 school year






Weekly Reviews, a newsletter young Hoover wrote for his neighbors
“Weekly Reviews,” a newsletter young Hoover wrote for his neighbors at age 11, 1906




Discover the Director’s District





Tucker and G-boy, J. Edgar Hoover’s beloved cairn terriers, c. 1960
Tucker and G-boy, J. Edgar Hoover’s beloved cairn terriers, c. 1960

Fun for the Director

Everyone has hobbies, and Hoover was no exception. He enjoyed his leisure time, and for him that included fishing, playing golf, and trips to the horse races in nearby Maryland. Have a look at some of the FBI Director’s vacation photos to see how he blew off steam.

Playing golf in Miami Beach, 1959
Playing golf in Miami Beach, 1959


Catch of the day, c. 1935
Catch of the day, c. 1935


Hoover with his Assistant Director and best friend, Clyde Tolson, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, c. 1935
Hoover with his Assistant Director and best friend, Clyde Tolson, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, c. 1935

Hoover and Tolson at a horse race in Laurel, Maryland, 1953
Hoover and Tolson at a horse race in Laurel, Maryland, 1953

Hoover & Hollywood
Spending time with Dorothy Lamour and Cornell Wilde on the set of The Greatest Show on Earth, with Charlton Heston in the background, 1951

Hoover & Hollywood

Hoover understood the value of star power. As an FBI Director with a prowess for public relations, he used Hollywood connections in order to boost the Bureau’s profile and limit what he saw as Hollywood’s tendency to glorify or romanticize criminals. Through the media, he hoped to promote a spotless image of the FBI and promote law enforcement officers as heroes and role models.

Combined with his unprecedented power and role in law enforcement, Hoover’s attention to the media made him popular in many Hollywood circles. Take a look at law enforcement’s first major celebrity and some of his high profile friends.

Hoover in his office with actor Mickey Rooney, 1940
Hoover in his office with actor Mickey Rooney, 1940

On set with actor Joseph Calleia, 1937
On set with actor Joseph Calleia, 1937

Bandleader and show host Lawrence Welk presenting his baton to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI National Academy Banquet, 1957
Bandleader and show host Lawrence Welk presenting his baton to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI National Academy Banquet, 1957

Meeting with director Mervyn LeRoy and actor Jimmy Stewart regarding their film The FBI Story, 1959
Meeting with director Mervyn LeRoy and actor Jimmy Stewart regarding their film The FBI Story, 1959

With journalist, Walter Winchell (left), and Major League baseball player, Joe DiMaggio (right), 1951
With journalist, Walter Winchell (left), and Major League baseball player, Joe DiMaggio (right), 1951

Cabinet of Curiosities

When exploring the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation collection at the National Law Enforcement Museum one has the feeling of opening an old-fashioned Cabinet of Curiosities. At first glance, the objects seemingly have no connection to one another, but placed in context they provide important clues to the cypher that is J. Edgar Hoover.

First up is a celebratory review of Hoover’s achievements at the FBI during his first 30 years. Using original artwork from the FBI’s exhibits section, the album depicts Hoover as the sole guiding force in the successes of the Bureau in the 1920s and 30s. Click the image below to explore this great Hoover album.

Album, Thirty years with the FBI, May 10, 1954
Album, Thirty years with the FBI, May 10, 1954

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