Harry Jacob Anslinger 1920s

From Vice-Counsel to the Treasury Department

Views of La Guaria, Venezuela from 1923-1925

Postcard from La Guaira, Venezuela. Anslinger was assigned there as vice-consul from 1923-1925.

Anslinger was unhappy with his assignment as vice-consul in La Guaria, Venezuela from 1923-1925. His wife and son lived in Caracas during the period so Joseph could have access to good schooling. Anslinger considered the experience a low point in his service in the diplomatic corps



Loading Gordon’s Gin aboard the Tomoka in the Bahamas, ca. 1921. (Courtesy Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, VA.)

Anslinger Verses the Rum Runners

Anslinger was transferred by the State Department to Nassau, Bahamas, in 1926. He was tasked there to help address the problem of rum runners smuggling alcohol to American ports in violation of Prohibition laws. His solution to the problem—convincing British officials in London to accept greater responsibility and take a more active role in enforcement—got him noticed by senior leadership in the Treasury Department.

The Department of the Treasury seal

Seal of the Department of the Treasury.

Chief, Division of Foreign Control, Prohibition Unit, 1926-1929

Anslinger’s responsibilities included carrying out the provisions of the British agreement against liquor smuggling and to expand agreements to other countries. In his time there he secured additional treaties affecting smuggling from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Vancouver, Cuba, and Belgium.

Bureau of Prohibition at the Treasury Department Agent badge

Treasury Department, Bureau of Prohibition, agent badge, ca. 1920-1930. In 1930 the Bureau moved to the Department of Justice.


The Move to Narcotics and an Emerging Strategy

Promoted to Assistant Commissioner of Prohibition at the Treasury Department in 1929, Anslinger earned an annual salary of $6,500. In addition to overseeing Treasury’s Narcotics Control Board, Anslinger suggested improvements to the Volstead Act, including better coordination among federal agencies and severe sanctions to deter and remind violators of their transgressions. It was a strategy he would adopt for the rest of his professional career.

Representative Stephen G. Porter (R-PA)

Representative Stephen G. Porter (R-PA) separated narcotics from prohibition with the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.



Representative Stephen G. Porter (R-PA) sponsored the bill in 1930 which created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and the position of Commissioner as its head. Colonel Levi Nutt, who had headed up the Narcotics Division of the Prohibition Unit, was mired in scandal over his son’s connections to racketeer Arnold Rothstein. Anslinger was named Acting Commissioner and formally appointed to the post by President Hoover in September 1930. In 10 years Anslinger had risen from the Consular Service at The Hague to Commissioner of the FBN.

Article for Saturday Evening Post, June 1926

Article for Saturday Evening Post, June 1926

Written by Anslinger while he was working as Consul (representative) for the U.S. State Department in La Guaria, Venezuela. The year this article was published, Harry was transferred to Nassau, Bahamas, before being moved to Washington, D.C., on loan to the Treasury Department where he remained for the rest of his career.

Diary of Joseph (Leet) Anslinger, Adopted Son of Harry Anslinger

Diary of Joseph (Leet) Anslinger, Adopted Son of Harry Anslinger

Written between 1919 and 1923, this journal documents the experiences of Joseph as he traveled with Harry and Martha Anslinger during their overseas assignments in the Netherlands, Germany, and Venezuela.