The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has had many badges over their history. Here’s a look at how the ATF badges have evolved.
The ATF law enforcement legacy began in 1791 when the first tax on whiskey passed under President George Washington. ATF’s legacy evolved under the U.S. Department of Treasury, first as part of the Office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue and then with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Today’s ATF Special Agents and Investigators are directly descended from the earliest Internal Revenue Collectors, Deputy Collectors, Assessors, Gougers, Store keeps, and Inspectors. This star badge is believed to be the original issue of that era.
On January 19, 1919, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition led to underground distilleries and saloons supplying bootlegged liquor. This prompted the U.S. Department of Treasury to strengthen its law enforcement capabilities. Eliot Ness emerged on the scene as a temporary Prohibition Agent.
In 1927, the Prohibition Unit was reorganized into the separate and distinct Bureau of U.S. Department of Treasury. As criminals gained control over the illegal liquor industry, a new mission of the Bureau emerged; crime fighting.
By 1930, the crime fighting mission began conflicting with the Treasury Departments’ philosophy of voluntary compliance with the laws. Crime fighting was transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Treasury Department created the Bureau of Industrial Alcohol to carry out its remaining regulatory functions.
In 1933, the 21st Amendment ended prohibition. The Bureau of Prohibition and Alcoholic Beverage Unit were dismantled. President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consolidating any federal agencies enforcing and regulating the liquor industry into one entity. That new entity became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) of the Internal Revenue Service.
There was still an illegal liquor problem in the country during this time. ATU seized many plants in the first few months of their existence. ATU managed to dismantle large liquor syndicated and the attitudes of prosecutors, judges, and courts began to change.
In 1952, the IRS consolidated enforcement responsibilities of alcohol and tobacco under one unit known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division. Moonshine production became a problem and moonshine related deaths became widespread.
Investigations of firearms and explosives-related crimes and regulation of those industries became a high priority within the U.S. Department of Treasury. Congress delegated the enforcement of laws and regulations to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, which had expanded responsibilities in firearms. Therefore, it became known as the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division.
ATF became an independent bureau on July 1, 1972, and reported directly to the Treasury Department’s Office of Enforcement, Tariff and Trade Affairs, and Operations. Responsibilities changes with ATF, moving from primarily the investigation of illicit alcohol, to crimes involving firearms, explosives, and arson.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred law enforcement responsibilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms with the Treasury Department to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives with the U.S. Department of Justice.