‘Most Wanted’: The Long History of the FBI’s Top Ten List


If the thought of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list fills your head with visions of hardened prisoners with long rap sheets, you’re not alone. Since March 14, 1950, the list has led to the capture of 156 criminals—and captured the American imagination along with it. But the story of how law enforcement started its iconic list involves more than mere post offices and police stations. It’s a romp across American history that involves the printing press, the Wild West, Prohibition and the evolution of the news as we know it.

In a time before walkie-talkies, cell phones and high-tech surveillance, nabbing criminals relied on good old-fashioned detective work. But detectives have always needed citizens to feed them relevant information and help them track down suspects.

Long before America was even a country, precursors of “wanted” posters, made possible by printing technology, were used to help track down scofflaws and apprehend…

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