25 Photographs of the History of the FBI, Part 2: World War I, Espionage, and the Red Scare

Aftermath of the 1920 Wall Street bombing. Slate

The Bureau of Investigation started with mostly white-collar and civil rights cases such as land fraud, banking fraud, copyright violations, and forced labor. The Bureau was beginning to receive some investigations on a national security level as well, such as the growing anarchist movement, among other treasonous activity. In 1910, the Bureau took the investigative lead on the Mann Act, attempting to prevent interstate prostitution and human trafficking.

By 1915, Congress had increased the Bureau of Investigation personnel from the original 34 to 360 special agents and support staff.

On January 27, 1915, the American merchant ship the William P. Frye was traveling to England with a cargo of wheat. She was intercepted by a German cruiser and ordered to dispose of the cargo as contraband. When the American crew refused, the Germans destroyed the ship. On May 7, the Germans sank the British RMS Lusitania, killing over 1,000 people including 128 Americans.

The Germans continued to target American ships until April 6, 1917 when Congress declared war, entering the United States into World War I. To protect the U.S. from subversion and sabotage, Congress passed the Espionage Act and the Sabotage act. The Bureau of Investigation became the principal investigative agency in counter-spy reconnaissance. The Bureau was also tasked with tracking down army deserters and keeping tabs on millions of German “enemy aliens” in America without citizenship.

In 1917, after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Americans felt threatened by the possibility of a global revolution, especially because of the domestic labor and economic unrest.

In April, 1919, the anarchist followers of Luigi Galleani mailed at least 36 bombs to prominent politicians, newspaper editors, businessmen. On June 2, anarchists detonated bombs in eight different cities.

On September 16, 1920, in the Financial District of Manhattan, anarchists detonated a bomb on Wall Street, killing 38 people.  Among the targets, although not seriously injured, was Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.

The United States was throttled into the Red Scare. Attorney General Palmer responded with a massive investigation, led by a young Justice Department lawyer named J. Edgar Hoover.

Ship William P. Frye builders. Library of Congress
RMS Lusitania. Wikimedia
President Wilson before Congress. The US enters World War I when Congress declares war against Germany on April 6. New York Times
African American soldiers of the US Army 41st Engineers in Color Guard ceremony Fort Bragg North Carolina United States. The US Army prepares for war. emaze
Margaretha Geertruida Margreet MacLeod better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I and executed by firing squad in France. Pinterest
March 10, 1919- The U.S. Supreme Court rules on Debs v. United States, affirming the labor leader’s conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 for an anti-war speech he gave in Ohio, in 1918. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison. Pinterest
Wives and children protest against the espionage act of 1917 outside the White House, Washington D.C., 1922. Pinterest
Protesters of the Espionage Act at the White House gate (ca. 1922). Pinterest
Civilian response to the Espionage Act of 1917. Pinterest
Strikers March at the Fleetwood Plant in Detroit. Radical unionism virtually collapsed in large part because of Federal repression during World War I by means of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Pinterest
1916 photo from one of internment camps set up during WWI for enemy aliens. The camps and the War Measures Act were used to suppress organized labour and revolutionary politics. Pinterest
Americans attacking a German-owned store in 1917. saturdayeveningpost
Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. Famous People
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