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Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation

?The FBI’s Fingerprint Files

A Place For Every Print, And Every Print In Its Place

Filing doesn’t have to be dull. Here is the evidence ? in more ways than one.

This FBI?s overflow filing system, housed during World War II in the Washington, D.C. Armory. By the early 1940s, the FBI’s archive housed more than 23 million card and 10 million fingerprint records, with 400,000 new cards added each and every month.?Around the war, the federal government invested huge resources into the FBI to investigate potential defectors and spies.?President Roosevelt, for one, was concerned about the lure of Communism and the subsequent threat to democracy.?By the end of 1943, the FBI employed around 13,000 people.

Shortly after WW1, and before he became the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover spent some time in Hollywood, urging film makers to curtail certain kinds of film making which he felt did not serve the best interests of the country. In particular, Hoover did not like the films of Charles Spencer Chaplin which tended to show people in authority abusing their power, maltreating common people, and eventually being made to look ridiculous. It was a Chaplin trademark; one which Hoover felt fostered disrespect for authority in the general population.

Hoover was also quite eager to use his new authority to bring Hollywood into line with what Hoover thought was their proper role in society (propaganda organ for the government) and while Senator McCarthy grabbed the headlines, Hoover was busy behind the scenes recruiting various people to inform on each other and factionalizing the Hollywood community so that it could not resist him.

One interesting story from those days relates to famed animator Walt Disney who had earlier on asked for Hoover’s help in locating his real birth parents, little realizing the price Hoover would make him pay later. During the McCarthy hysteria, Hoover asked Walt Disney to report on anyone that might be a communist.

Hoover took great interest in just how the FBI was portrayed in the movies, and later in television. During the making of “The FBI Story” starring Jimmy Stewart, Hoover was on the set every day directing the director as to how to make the film. Despite such ham-handed interference, Jimmy Stewart turned in a marvelous performance in the small amount of room the character was allowed.

Even when not personally supervising films about the FBI, a close watch, and sometimes direct intervention was taken in any film that referenced the FBI, no matter how slight.

Since 1924, the FBI has been the single U.S. repository for fingerprints. Computers were first installed to search these files in 1980. Since 1999, the FBI has stored and accessed its fingerprint database via the digital IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System).

With its distinctive domed roof, the D.C. Armoury opened in 1941 as the headquarters, armory and training facility for the D.C. National Guard.