Historical Profiles: The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency: Allan Pinkerton, world's first detective, started the first detective agency and they became known as, The Pinks.

Allan Pinkerton was born in Scotland on August 25, 1819 in a tenement flat on the 3rd floor in one of the worst slums of Glasgow. His father was William, a weaver who has been described as being quite handsome.

When Allan was eight years old his father died and his mother had to go back to work. Little Allan quit school and went to work as an apprentice in a pattern-making shop to help his mother.

In March of 1842, Allan married Joan Carfrae and that same year they boarded a ship to America. They later settled in Chicago where Pinkerton did detective work and soon he became a deputy Sheriff. After solving a major crime, he became a celebrated hero in Chicago.

At age 31, he started his own detective agency and hired what he believed to be honest men but one of Pinkerton's main rules -- no drinking. He wanted his men sober and alert at all times and even hired a woman. He taught his detectives how to do investigative work and showed them how to dress in disguise. His office was filled with costumes and wigs.

His slogan painted on his door was an open eye with the writing "We never sleep," written underneath it. This gave Pinkerton the nickname, "Private eye." Criminals soon hated and feared the name Pinkerton. In February 1861 he and his detectives uncovered a plot to kill newly elected President Lincoln.

During the Civil War, Pinkerton hated slavery so much he worked for the Union Army's Secret Service to help catch southern spies. After the war, he returned to his Chicago office and by 1868 his sons William and Robert was working with him. They now had branch offices in several cities and by the 1870's they were chasing outlaw gangs.

Pinkerton and the outlaw Jesse James had an intense dislike for one another. For years, the James gang had managed to outwit the Pinkertons. On January 5, 1875 Pinkerton's men threw an iron torch inside the home of Jesse James' mother thinking James was inside. The attack resulted in blowing off Mrs. James right arm. Now, the Pinkertons looked bad in the public's eyes and Jesse James set out for retaliation.

James went to Chicago for one reason. To kill Allan Pinkerton. Four months the outlaw walked the streets of Chicago with a loaded gun. Inside the gun was a bullet with the name Pinkerton wrote on. But, the famous detective never knew James was in the city. The outlaw James, being frustrated and unable to get Pinkerton at the right time and the right place, returned home.

Railroad companies and banks hired the Pinkertons and also manufacturing companies to put down strikes. Allan Pinkerton started the first "Rogues Gallery", a file of pictures and information on criminals. He shared his file with law groups to help catch the unlawful. Later, this same system would form the I.D. system of the FBI.

Pinkerton, growing older with ailing health, retired to his Chicago mansion and wrote 18 books. He died on July 1, 1884 at age 65 but his namesake will always be remembered in honor and excellence.

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