Harry Jacob Anslinger 1950s

Politics, Narcotics Control, & the Mafia

1952 Presidential Campaign Buttons featuring Republican (Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon; left) and Democratic (Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman; right) party candidates.

Politics Calling?

In 1952 Anslinger, a Republican, was approached to run for Vice President on the Democratic ticket by a group of Democrats who were against what they saw as the elitism of Adlai Stevenson. Anslinger declined, citing his unlikely chance of getting the nomination.

Anslinger en route to Rome, Italy. 1950.

Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) Goes Overseas

With more and more investigations connecting the mafia to drug trafficking, and with the start of investigations that would lead to the famous “French Connection,” Anslinger re-opened FBN’s first overseas post in Rome, Italy that had been closed with the outbreak of World War II.

Anslinger testifying at the Kefauver Hearings, 1951

Kefauver Hearings

Chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN), the hearings examined the existence and role of the mafia in America. The Committee’s investigators were two FBN Agents who testified that “organized crime smuggled into and distributed enough narcotics to supply one-fifth of the addict population in America.” Anslinger’s FBN prepared a list of some 800 individuals with suspected ties to the mafia and drugs.

“Assault with Intent to Kill,” cartoon published in the Arlington, Virginia, Daily Sun, March 19, 1955.

Post-WWII: The Communist Scare and Drugs

Following World War II America’s attention turned toward the Cold War and the spread of communism. China, a source country for opiates, became a target for a so-called communist narcotics offensive. The McCarthy scare reinforced Anslinger’s worries that the communists were “flooding the world with dope to corrupt the youth of America.”

“When the Russians land on the moon, the first man they will meet will be Anslinger, searching for narcotics.”

— Mob Boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano

Training School Brochures. The Narcotics Control Act of 1956 launched an FBN training program.

Narcotics Control Act

The Narcotics Control Act, passed in 1957, was developed after hearings involving more than 340 witnesses, including Anslinger. Hearings took place across thirteen cities and gathered 8,600 pages of testimony. The Act significantly increased penalties for drug trafficking. These included mandatory sentences for certain offences and the death penalty for selling heroin to a minor.

The Act also provided for greater enforcement activities for the FBN, and created the first narcotics training school.

Anslinger testifying at the McClellan Hearings, 1957

McClellan Hearings

Formally referred to as the “Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor and Management Field,” these hearings delved further into organized crime in America. Anslinger testified in front of the Committee whose members included John F. Kennedy, Joseph McCarthy, and Barry Goldwater. Robert Kennedy was chief counsel for the Committee.

Award for Service, New York Board of Trade, 1957

Accolades Roll In

Presented to Anslinger in honor of the 25th Anniversary of his being named Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The Drug, Chemical and Allied Trades Section of the New York Board of Trade represented more than 700 firms from the drug, chemical, cosmetic, and related commodities fields from across the country.

“No-one since he [Anslinger] was appointed U.S. Commissioner in 1930 has exerted brain and energy more doughtily to mobilize world resources, both in terms of law and police or custom’s surveillance, to clear the whole, vast, complicated and shuddering canker of illicit drug dealing from the earth.”

— Interpol, A.J. Forrest, London, 1955

Letter from John R. Steelman, Assistant to President Harry S. Truman, 1952

Anslinger appeared on many television programs over the years, helping to explain to the public the importance of drug regulation and the efforts needed to end its smuggling. Those efforts were often coordinated with the Administration. The position of Assistant to the President of the United States is now known as the White House Chief of Staff.

Letter to Anslinger from John R. Steelman, assistant to president Harry S. Truman. 1952.

International Correspondence Following an Anslinger trip to Taiwan. 1957.

Anslinger made frequent trips abroad, working to establish and maintain relationships with foreign government officials and law enforcement authorities with the goal of putting in place global controls on drug production to reduce drug trafficking.

This letter from the Chinese (Taiwanese) Ministry of the Interior, accompanied samples and a price list (below) for Chinese brocade Anslinger was considering for purchase following one of his trips.

This price list accompanied samples of Chinese brocade from Taiwan Anslinger was considering for purchase following one of his trips.

Internal memo regarding Chinese brocade samples sent to Anslinger from a Taiwanese associate following a trip in 1957.

Chinese brocade samples sent to Anslinger in 1957 from Taiwan.