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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Allan Pinkerton Born, August 25, 1819

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Today in 1819, Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He would one day lend his name to the Pinkerton Agency, the first modern company that could rightfully be called a detective agency. Our concept of a private eye had its origin with Pinkerton and his employees.

Allan Pinkerton emigrated to the United States at the age of 23 in 1842. Seven years later, lawmakers in Chicago appointed him the city's first detective. After a year in that position, Pinkerton met Edward Rucker, a local attorney. The two formed a partnership and started the North-Western Police Agency, the company that would come to be known as the PInkerton Agency.

In its early years, the agency worked mainly for railroad companies as a private police force. Pinkerton and his agents found the perpetrators in several train robberies during the 1850's, an accomplishment that helped the Pinkerton name become a familiar one to American businessmen. During this time, Pinkerton developed many techniques that help define modern investigation, including organized surveillance and undercover work.

When the Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Pinkerton to the head of the Union Intelligence Service, a position he held for the next year. The Intelligence Service foiled an assassination plot against the President and infiltrated many Confederate sympathizer groups. Pinkerton went on many undercover missions himself, sometimes dressed as a Confederate officer who went by the name E.J. Allen.

After the war, Pinkerton went back to what his agency knew best: catching train robbers. The Agency experienced explosive growth between the end of the war in 1865 and the turn of the 20th century as businesses hired the Pinkerton Agency to provide security at work sites. At one point during the late 19th century, the agency was larger than the entire US Army. The legislature in Ohio moved to outlaw the Agency over fears that it could be hired out to act as a private army.

Labor unrest of all types defined the last three decades of the 19th century in the United States. Pinkerton guards were everywhere, keeping strikers off company property and routing union organizers from shops. The agency developed a bad reputation among working class Americans, and not completely without reason. For example, during the Homestead Strike in 1892, several people were killed by Pinkerton Agents.

The Pinkerton Agency also operated in the unruly Western United States, where agents helped hunt down outlaws such as Jesse James and the Reno brothers. Competing agencies began to appear on the scene, some of them formed by former Pinkerton employees. Through it all, Pinkerton remained the name that everyone remembered when the need arose for an investigation or a private security force.

Allan Pinkerton did not live to see the company's 20th century exploits. He died on July 1, 1884, aged 65 years, as a result of an infection.

In 2003, Securitas AB bought both the Pinkerton Agency and the former Burns Detective Agency, a competitor. A new company was formed, Securitas Security Services, USA. one of the largest corporations of its type in the world.

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