Most people remember J. Edgar Hoover as the first head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who kept extensive information and files on people whom he disliked, distrusted, or who caught his attention in negative way. But did you know that before J. Edgar Hoover became a top law enforcer he was an information sciences professional, a librarian?
J. Edgar, the Movie
As a graduate student in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, a professor who was introducing themselves and pitching their class talked about the film "J. Edgar." Released in 2011, this movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover showed the evolution of this controversial man from humble librarian to head of the FBI.
J. Edgar the Cataloger
John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was born and spent his entire life in Washington, D.C. His first job at age 18 was as a messenger at the Library of Congress (LOC). Hoover also worked in the cataloging department. Later in 1951, Hoover wrote in a letter, “[T]his job …trained me in the value of collating material. It gave me an excellent foundation for my work in the FBI where it has been necessary to collate information and evidence.” In excellent homage to Hoover and the Library of Congress there were some scenes for the film "J. Edgar" shot on location in the LOC.
J. Edgar Hoover, 1940 Census Clues
Just for fun, I looked at the 1940 United States Census to see if there was any information of interest there that would give a snapshot into who he was. According to that document, J. Edgar Hoover lived at 413 Seward Square in Washington D.C., age 45, single, and living alone. Perhaps the most interesting fact on this page is:
"Weeks Worked in 1939: 52"
"Hours Worked Week Prior to Census: 99"
I did a researcher double-take when I saw the number of hours that Hoover says he worked in the previous week. I went and looked at the handwritten document to find that '105' was recorded, crossed out, and replaced with '99.' So J. Edgar didn't take vacations and if he worked seven days a week he worked fourteen hours per day. Hoover was a workaholic. It is also interesting to note that J. Edgar Hoover lived in the same house his entire life.
Empire of Information Evil
If Hoover had remained at the Library of Congress the world might be a very different place. While Hoover excelled at collecting, codifying, and storing data, he used his information skills for evil. Hoover was a petty, malicious, controlling person with an unhealthy dose of paranoia, as many people may be who have dark secrets to hide. The full legacy of J. Edgar Hoover may never fully be known as his faithful secretary, Helen Gandy (pictured below), spent weeks destroying Hoover's personal files that he is said to have used to blackmail politicians, police, players, and Presidents.Library of Congress Prints and Photographs