In 1972 ATF was officially established as an independent bureau within the Treasury Department on July 1, 1972, this transferred the responsibilities of the ATF division of the IRS to the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
The ATF was formerly part of the United States Department of the Treasury, having been formed in 1886 as the “Revenue Laboratory” within the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue. The history of ATF can be subsequently traced to the time of the revenuers and the Bureau of Prohibition, which was formed as a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1920.
It was made an independent agency within the Treasury Department in 1927, was transferred to the Justice Department in 1930, and became, briefly, a division of the FBI in 1933.
When the Volstead Act, which established Prohibition in the United States, was repealed in December 1933, the Unit was transferred from the Department of Justice back to the Department of the Treasury, where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Special Agent Eliot Ness and several members of The “Untouchables”, who had worked for the Prohibition Bureau while the Volstead Act was still in force, were transferred to the ATU. In 1942, responsibility for enforcing federal firearms laws was given to the ATU.
In the early 1950s, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was renamed “Internal Revenue Service” (IRS), and the ATU was given the additional responsibility of enforcing federal tobacco tax laws. At this time, the name of the ATU was changed to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD).
In 1968, with the passage of the Gun Control Act, the agency changed its name again, this time to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS and first began to be referred to by the initials “ATF”.