The lab was initially operated out of a single room and had only one full-time employee, Agent Charles Appel. Agent Appel began with a borrowed microscope and a pseudo-scientific device called a helixometer. The helixometer purportedly assisted investigators with gun barrel examinations, but it was actually more for show than function. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, provided the lab with very few resources and used the “cutting-edge lab” primarily as a public relations tool. But by 1938, the FBI lab added polygraph machines and started conducting controversial lie detection tests as part of its investigations.
In its early days, the FBI Crime Lab worked on about 200 pieces of evidence a year. By the 1990s, that number multiplied to approximately 200,000. Currently, the FBI Crime Lab obtains hundreds of new pieces of criminal evidence everyday.