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Pinkerton, Allan

PINKERTON, ALLAN

Allan Pinkerton was a famous nineteenth-century detective and founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Pinkerton served as a spy during the u.s. civil war and was renowned for preventing the assassination of President-Elect abraham lincoln in 1861. He became a controversial figure when large companies hired his "Pinkerton men" to break labor union strikes through the use of intimidation and violence.

Pinkerton was born on August 25, 1819, in Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a police sergeant, but as a young man Pinkerton did not seek a police job. Instead he apprenticed as a cooper and learned to make barrels. In 1842, after he completed his apprenticeship, Pinkerton emigrated to the United States. He settled in Chicago and set up a cooper's shop.

In 1843 Pinkerton moved his business to Dundee, in Kane County, Illinois. In that year he discovered and captured a gang of counterfeiters. The event changed Pinkerton's life. He became involved with police work and was appointed deputy sheriff of Kane County in 1846. He soon shifted to a similar position in Cook County, with headquarters in Chicago.

In 1850 he resigned as a deputy and started the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. This private detective agency, which specialized in railroad theft cases, became the most famous organization of its kind. Pinkerton soon opened branches in several cities. In 1866 his agents recovered $700,000 stolen from the Adams Express Company and captured the thieves.

Pinkerton's public image was enhanced by his discovery in 1861 of a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as the president-elect traveled by train from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Pinkerton entered the Union army as a major.

He was commissioned by General George B. McClellan to create a secret service of the U.S. Army to investigate criminal activity, such as payroll thefts and murder. Pinkerton also headed an organization, under the name E. J. Allan, that worked to obtain military information in the Southern states.

Following the Civil War, Pinkerton returned to his detective agency. His agency soon became an integral part in the wars between labor and management that became common in the 1870s. States enacted laws that gave corporations the authority to create their own private police

forces or to contract with established police agencies. Pinkerton created groups of armed men known as Pinkerton men, who were contracted out for a daily fee to corporations with labor problems. Their menacing attitudes and use of violence were despised by labor unions and their supporters.

In 1877 the United States was beset by a number of railroad strikes. Pinkerton's agents were used as strikebreakers, and their harsh actions toward the labor unions were criticized. James McParlan, a Pinkerton agent, infiltrated the Molly Maguires, a secret organization of Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal miners. From 1872 to 1876, McParlan became part of the Molly Maguires, who were responsible for terrorism in the coal fields. He later testified in a series of trials that led to the conviction and hanging of ten men for murder.

Pinkerton, an unabashed self-promoter, wrote an account called The Molly Maguires and the Detectives (1877). In 1878 he wrote Strikers, Communists and Tramps in which he defended the use of his agents as strikebreakers, arguing that he was protecting workers by opposing unionism. He wrote about his role in foiling the Lincoln assassination in The Spy of the Rebellion (1883) and his autobiography Thirty Years as a Detective (1884).

Pinkerton died on July 1, 1884, in Chicago.

further readings

Mackay, James. 1997. Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye. New York: J. Wiley & Sons.

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Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884) was the father of many American police detection techniques and founder of America's most famous detective agency.

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow on Aug. 25, 1819, the son of a police sergeant who was later wounded during the Chartist riots. Pinkerton himself became a Chartist and, fearing for his safety after participating in the turmoil, emigrated to the United States in 1842. He settled in a Scottish community at Dundee, III. He became an outspoken abolitionist, allegedly serving as the local conductor on the Underground Railroad.

While working as a cooper in Dundee, Pinkerton was instrumental in capturing a group of counterfeiters. After several private commissions in detective work, he was named deputy sheriff of Kane County in 1846. In 1850 he became the first detective on the reorganized police department of Chicago. He simultaneously organized a private agency, leaving public service soon afterward.

Pinkerton's agency, unlike the typical agency of the day, was run with strict propriety. He would not, for example, undertake investigations of the morals of a woman, the stock-in-trade of most private detectives, except in connection with some other crime. Nor did he set his fees according to how much money he regained in a theft case, a practice which frequently tied detectives to the underworld. Pinkerton's operatives received uniform fees, set in advance, plus expenses. Pinkerton quickly developed a national reputation as a result of work for the U.S. Post Office, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and the Illinois Central Railroad (through which he developed a valuable friendship with its president, George McClellan).

In 1861 Pinkerton was investigating alleged Confederate sabotage of a railroad in Maryland when he claimed to have unearthed a scheme to assassinate the president-elect, Abraham Lincoln, then on his way to his inauguration. Pinkerton convinced Lincoln to revise his plans for entering Washington, D.C., and he supervised Lincoln's secret journey. Pinkerton later discussed the organization of a national secret service with the President but, when nothing developed, joined his old client, now Gen. McClellan, as head of intelligence in the Army's Ohio Department. When McClellan left the Army in 1862, Pinkerton resigned his post and spent the rest of the war investigating cotton speculation frauds in the Mississippi Valley.

Following the war, Pinkerton turned active direction of his flourishing agency over to his two sons, although he continued to take an interest in agency affairs and kept control of central policy. He supervised the agency's growth in its chief fields of endeavor: the pursuit and capture of train robbers like the James gang; the supplying of a private corps of armed guards to industries and special events such as county fairs; and the breaking of labor unions. He became a vociferous enemy of labor unions.

Pinkerton had a penchant for self-celebration, writing some 20 books about his and his detectives' exploits. He died on July 1, 1884.

Further Reading

Pinkerton's own books tell little about him or about his detective agency. Scarcely more credible is James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, The Pinkerton Story (1951), an idolatrous study approved by the Pinkerton agency. Morris Friedman, The Pinkerton Labor Spy (1907), hostile toward the Pinkertons, is dated.

Additional Sources

Pinkerton, Allan, The expressman and the detective, New York: Arno Press, 1976 c1874. □

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Pinkerton, Allan

Allan Pinkerton, 1819–84, American detective, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, b. Glasgow, Scotland. A cooper by trade, he emigrated to the United States in 1842 and opened in West Dundee, Ill., a cooper's shop, which became a station on the Underground Railroad. His discovery and capture of a band of counterfeiters led to his appointment (1846) as county sheriff and, in 1850, to an appointment as the first city detective on the Chicago police force. He established in the same year a private detective agency, which had considerable success in solving train- and express-company robberies. In 1861 he foiled a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and in the Civil War Pinkerton organized and directed an espionage system behind the Confederate lines. His agency secured (1869) evidence on which the Molly Maguires were broken up. After Pinkerton's death, the agency was continued by his sons, Robert A. Pinkerton and William A. Pinkerton, and was active in breaking the Homestead strike of 1892. For its role in industrial disputes on behalf of management, particularly in its use of labor spies, the agency was denounced by organized labor. Pinkerton wrote of his own experiences in Criminal Reminiscences and Detective Sketches (1879) and other books.

See biography by S. A. Lavine; R. W. Rowan, The Pinkertons (1931); J. D. Horan, Desperate Men (1949) and The Pinkertons (1967).

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Pinkerton, Allan

Pinkerton, Allan (1819–84) US detective, b. Scotland. He moved to the USA in 1842, and became a detective on the Chicago Police force, resigning in 1850 to establish his own agency, Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. He organized and headed a federal intelligence service (1861).

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