Harry Jacob Anslinger 1930s

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics & Early Enforcement Strategy

Aslinger in 1931.

The “New” Federal Bureau of Narcotics

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was founded in 1930 by the Department of the Treasury to assume enforcement of the provisions of the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914. Anslinger was appointed its first commissioner.

The FBN was divided into 15 Districts that mirrored the districts for the U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. There were 271 Agents, 426 office employees, and a budget of $1,712,998.

Anslinger managed the FBN throughout the Great Depression. He was commended for his ability to prioritize as the agency’s budget shrank exponentially due to the limited resources of the government in the era.

Aslinger and Fellow Delegates to the Geneva Limitation Convention, League of Nations. 1931.

Working Toward International Drug Laws

Anslinger (seated) and three other delegates to the Geneva Convention sign the Geneva Limitation Convention of 1931. This placed international limits on the manufacture of heroin, morphine, and cocaine, and limited their distribution. It also required offices for national drug control in each country.

Anslinger’s Early Enforcement Strategy

At a 1932 Lecture at Dickinson College, Anslinger spelled out his strategy to focus the FBN’s limited resources on eliminating major international drug rings and stopping interstate drug trafficking, leaving street level drug dealers and addicts to local police. This was the overarching strategy he and agency leaders have followed ever since.

Anslinger speaking at the 1935 Attorney General’s conference. 1935.

At the beginning of his tenure at the FBN, Anslinger spoke at the 1935 Attorney General’s conference. He campaigned for States to adopt model legislation to make drug laws and penalties more consistent nationwide. By 1937 all of the States had passed, or were working to pass common legislation to control certain narcotics.
He pushed for the passage of uniform state narcotics acts throughout the 1930s.

Horses at the track.

Doping Race Horses

In the early to mid-1930s the practice of horse trainers doping their race horses using heroin, cocaine, caffeine, and strychnine made national headlines. The cruelty with which the animals were treated caused a media sensation and public outrage. Anslinger declared war against the trainers and his agents made a number of high profile cases. This helped to make the FBN and Anslinger household names.

Stamps produced for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

Regulating Marijuana

The move to add marijuana to the nation’s drug control laws was marked by a certain amount of ambivalence on Anslinger’s part. He shared the concern of the medical and scientific community of the day that it was a serious threat to the nation, particularly its youth. Anslinger was also concerned for the ability of his understaffed and under-budgeted agency to enforce yet another drug law. By that time, forty-one states had already outlawed marijuana. Nevertheless, for his role in bringing marijuana under federal control, Anslinger has become a lightning rod for today’s critics of the federal government’s role in regulating marijuana.

Mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano. New York Police Department mug shot, 1931.

Fighting Organized Crime

First exposed to the existence of organized crime in America during his time working on the Pennsylvania Railroad, it would affect Anslinger for the rest of his life. He was determined to bring mafia bosses (such as “Lucky” Luciano, right) who trafficked in drugs to justice, targeting their organizations long before the FBI even acknowledged that the mob existed in the United States.

Cartoon promoting the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act, Washington Herald, November 23, 1932. Anslinger lobbied for the act and was assisted in his efforts by Washington Herald owner William Randolph Hearst.

Stockpiling opium for World War II.

In the late 1930s, Anslinger (pictured at left) recognized that another World War was on the horizon and recalled morphine shortages during the previous world war. With his excellent working knowledge of the global supply of opium, Anslinger began to stockpile opium in the vaults at the U.S. Treasury in Washington DC which had been emptied of gold with the opening of Fort Knox. By 1940, Anslinger managed to squirrel away 300 tons – enough to satisfy the medical needs of America and its allies for  four years.

Efforts to Merge the Bureau

His actions merited a medal of honor for his advanced thought that resulted in the U.S. having a supply of narcotic drugs throughout the World War II period sufficient for civilian needs, for the Armed Services, and the needs of our Allies.”

– Missouri Congressman John Cochran

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Clandestine Services.

The relationship between the agents of FBN and America’s spy agencies is a long and complex one. Anslinger began corresponding with General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, founder of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which later became the CIA. FBN Agents and even Anslinger himself provided training to OSS personnel on undercover work, surveillance techniques and interviewing that had been gleaned from Anslinger’s WWI and State Department experiences.

Invitations to Various Events

Harry Anslinger was the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) for more than 30 years, serving five Presidents, from Hoover to Kennedy. In his position he was invited to many White House and Embassy events in Washington, DC.

Invitation to a dinner held in honor of the inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Vice President Henry A. Wallace. The event was held at the Hotel Mayflower in Washington, D.C., on January 19, 1945.

Invitation for Henry and Mrs. Anslinger to join President and Mrs. Coolidge at the White House for a reception. The event was held on December 8, 1927.

Invitation for Anslinger, then serving as the American consul, to join the governor of Nassau and Lady Cordeaux for dinner. Date and location unknown.

Letter from President Herbert Hoover and his response, 1933

Written by President Hoover as he ended his term as President, handing the reigns to Franklin D. Roosevelt. That Anslinger survived the Roosevelt landslide election of 1932 is a testament to his ability to navigate Washington politics and the positive impact he was having on the drug issue for the nation.

In the letter, President Hoover commends Anslinger’s service as director of the FBN, and thanks him for his friendship.

Anslinger responded to President Hoover’s letter with gratitude for his kind words.