On this day in history, Charles J. Bonaparte, Attorney General in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, signed a memo describing a “regular force of special agents” available to investigate certain cases of the Department of Justice. This date is “celebrated” [in the words of the FBI website] as the official birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — known throughout the world today as the FBI. (The agency was officially established in 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). Its name was changed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935.)
After Bonaparte was appointed to his office, he discovered that he had no means to combat the rising tide of crime and corruption. Not only were violent crimes on the rise, but political and economic corruption was also a growing problem. Bonaparte had to borrow agents from the Secret Service to help him with his cases, and not only were they expensive, but these agents reported not to the Attorney General, but to the Chief of the Secret Service, giving Bonaparte little control over his own investigations. Even more frustrating, when Bonaparte made the problem known to Congress, they banned the loan of Secret Service operatives to any federal department in May 1908.
With Roosevelt’s blessing, Bonaparte created his own force of special investigators. In his memo on this date, he ordered Department of Justice attorneys to refer most investigative matters for the Department of Justice to his Chief Examiner, Stanley W. Finch, for handling by one of his new 34 agents.