Pinkerton (detective agency)

This article is about the Pinkerton detective agency. For the Canadian television show of a similar name about the agency, see The Pinkertons. For the Album by Weezer, see Pinkerton (album).
"We Never Sleep" redirects here. For the 1917 film starring Harold Lloyd, see We Never Sleep (film).
Private incorporation
Industry Private security contractor
Founded Chicago, Illinois, United States (1850 (1850))
Founder Allan Pinkerton
Area served
Products Investigations, employment screening, protective services, security, crisis management, intelligence services
Services Security management, full-service risk management consulting
Parent Securitas AB (since 2003)

Pinkerton, founded as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, is a private security guard and detective agency established in the United States by Allan Pinkerton in 1850 and currently a subsidiary of Securitas AB.[1] Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.[2] Pinkerton's agents performed services ranging from security guarding to private military contracting work. Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the height of its power.[3]

During the labor strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, businessmen hired the Pinkerton Agency to infiltrate unions, supply guards, keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories, and recruit goon squads to intimidate workers. One such confrontation was the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to reinforce the strikebreaking measures of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie.[4] The ensuing battle between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to the deaths of seven Pinkerton agents and nine steelworkers.[5] The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. The organization was pejoratively called the "Pinks" by its opponents.

The company now operates as "Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, Inc. d.b.a. Pinkerton Corporate Risk Management", a division of the Swedish security company Securitas AB. The former Government Services division, PGS, now operates as Securitas Critical Infrastructure Services, Inc.[6]


In the 1850s, Allan Pinkerton met Chicago attorney Edward Rucker in a local Masonic Hall and formed the North-Western Police Agency, later known as the Pinkerton Agency.[7][8][9]

Historian Frank Morn writes: "By the mid-1850s a few businessmen saw the need for greater control over their employees; their solution was to sponsor a private detective system. In February 1855, Allan Pinkerton, after consulting with six midwestern railroads, created such an agency in Chicago."[10]

Government work

Pinkerton guards escort strikebreakers in Buchtel, Ohio, 1884

In 1871, Congress appropriated $50,000 to the new Department of Justice (DOJ) to form a suborganization devoted to "the detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law." The amount was insufficient for the DOJ to fashion an integral investigating unit, so the DOJ contracted out the services to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.[11]

However, since passage of the Anti-Pinkerton Act in 1893, federal law has stated that an "individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization, may not be employed by the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia."[12]

Chicago "Special Officers" and watchmen

Molly Maguires

Main article: Molly Maguires

In the 1870s, Franklin B. Gowen, then president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, hired the agency to "investigate" the labor unions in the company's mines. A Pinkerton agent, James McParland, using the alias "James McKenna", infiltrated the Molly Maguires, a 19th-century secret society of mainly Irish-American coal miners, leading to the downfall of the labor organization. The incident inspired Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear (1914-1915). (A Pinkerton agent also appears in a small role in The Adventure of the Red Circle, a 1911 Holmes story. A 1970 film, The Molly Maguires, was loosely based upon the incident as well; the film starred Richard Harris, Sean Connery and Anthony Zerbe.)

Pinkerton men leaving a barge after their surrender during the Homestead Strike

Homestead Strike

Main article: Homestead Strike
Frick's letter describing the plans and munitions that will be on the barges when the Pinkertons arrive to confront the strikers in Homestead.

On July 6, 1892, during the Homestead Strike, 300 Pinkerton detectives from New York and Chicago were called in by Carnegie Steel's Henry Clay Frick to protect the Pittsburgh-area mill and strikebreakers. This resulted in a fire fight and siege in which 16 men were killed and 23 others were wounded. To restore order, two brigades of the Pennsylvania militia were called out by the Governor.

As a legacy of the Pinkerton's involvement a bridge connecting the nearby Pittsburgh suburbs of Munhall and Rankin was named Pinkerton's Landing Bridge.

Detective Frank P. Geyer

In 1895, detective Frank Geyer tracked down the murderer of the three Pitezel children, leading to the eventual trial and execution of the United States' first known serial killer H. H. Holmes. His story is told in his book, The Holmes-Pitezel Case.[16] Pinkertons had previously apprehended Holmes in 1894 in Boston on an outstanding warrant for insurance fraud perpetrated in Chicago.

Steunenberg murder and trial

Main article: Frank Steunenberg

Harry Orchard was arrested by the Idaho police and confessed to Pinkerton agent James McParland that he assassinated former Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho in 1905. Orchard testified, (unsuccessfully) under threat of hanging,[17] against Western Federation of Miners president Big Bill Haywood, naming him as having hired the hit. With a stirring defense by Clarence Darrow, Haywood and the other defendants of the WFM were acquitted in a nationally publicized trial. Orchard received a death sentence, but it was commuted.[18]

Indiana University

Bogus written and distributed by Indiana University students in 1890. The Pinkerton Agency was hired to find the authors.
Bogus written and distributed by Indiana University students in 1890. The Pinkerton Agency was hired to find the authors.

In 1890, Indiana University hired the Pinkerton Agency to investigate the authorship of a student "bogus" that had been distributed throughout town. While boguses were not uncommon, this particular one attacked IU faculty and students with such graphic language that Bloomington residents complained. The detective arrived in Bloomington on April 26 and spent nearly two weeks conducting interviews and dispatching regular reports back to the home office. In the end, it was town talk that led to the student authors and not the work of the agent. The seven Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers were from locally prominent families, including the son of a Trustee, but all were expelled. In 1892, however, the Trustees granted five of the men their degrees and all seven were reinstated in good standing.[19][20]

Outlaws and competition

Pinkerton agents were hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno Gang, and the Wild Bunch (including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). On March 17, 1874, two Pinkerton Detectives and a deputy sheriff, Edwin P. Daniels,[21] encountered the Younger brothers (associates of the James–Younger Gang); Daniels, John Younger, and one Pinkerton agent was killed. In Union, Missouri a bank was robbed by George Collins, aka Fred Lewis, and Bill Randolph; Pinkerton Detective Chas Schumacher trailed them and was killed. Collins was hanged on March 26, 1904 and Randolph was hanged on May 8, 1905 in Union. Pinkertons were also hired for transporting money and other high quality merchandise between cities and towns, which made them vulnerable to the outlaws. Pinkerton agents were usually well paid and well armed.

G.H. Thiel, a former Pinkerton employee, established the Thiel Detective Service Company in St. Louis, Missouri, a competitor to the Pinkerton agency. The Thiel company operated in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Due to its conflicts with labor unions, the word Pinkerton continues to be associated by labor organizers and union members with strikebreaking.[22] Pinkertons, however, moved away from labor spying following revelations publicized by the La Follette Committee hearings in 1937.[23] Pinkerton's criminal detection work also suffered from the police modernization movement, which saw the rise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the bolstering of detective branches and resources of the public police. Without the labor and criminal investigation work on which Pinkertons thrived for decades, the company became increasingly involved in protection services, and in the 1960s, even the word "Detective" disappeared from the agency's letterhead.[24] In July 2003, Pinkerton's was acquired along with longtime rival, the William J. Burns Detective Agency (founded in 1910), by Securitas AB to create Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., one of the largest security companies in the world.

Badge history

Appearance in popular media

See also


  1. "Pinkerton Government Services, Inc.: Private Company Information – Businessweek". Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  2. Green, James (2006). Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42237-4.p. 43
  3. TM Becker (1974). "The place of private police in society: An area of research for the Social Sciences". Social Problems. Social Problems. 21 (3): 438–453. doi:10.1525/sp.1974.21.3.03a00110. JSTOR 799910.
  4. "Strike at Homestead Mill". Public Broadcasting System. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  5. Krause, Paul (1992). The Battle for Homestead, 1890-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-5466-4. p.20-21
  6. LinkedIn
  7. Foner, Eric; Garraty, John Arthur, eds. (Oct 21, 1991). The Reader's Companion to American History. Houghton Mifflin Books. ISBN 0-395-51372-3.p. 842
  8. Robinson, Charles M (2005). American Frontier Lawmen 1850-1930. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-575-9.p. 63
  9. Horan, James David; Howard Swiggett (1951). The Pinkerton Story. Putnam.p. 202
  10. Morn, Frank (1982). The Eye That Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32086-0. p. 18
  11. Churchill, Ward (Spring 2004). "From the Pinkertons to the PATRIOT Act: The Trajectory of Political Policing in the United States, 1870 to the Present". The New Centennial Review. 4 (1): 1–72. doi:10.1353/ncr.2004.0016. Archived from the original on October 26, 2009.
  12. 5 U.S. Code 3108; Public Law 89-554, 80 Stat. 416 (1966); ch. 208 (5th par. under "Public Buildings"), 27 Stat. 591 (1893). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in U.S. ex rel. Weinberger v. Equifax, 557 F.2d 456 (5th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1035 (1978), held that "The purpose of the Act and the legislative history reveal that an organization was 'similar' to the Pinkerton Detective Agency only if it offered for hire mercenary, quasi-military forces as strikebreakers and armed guards. It had the secondary effect of deterring any other organization from providing such services lest it be branded a 'similar organization.'" 557 F.2d at 462; see also "GAO Decision B-298370; B-298490, Brian X. Scott (Aug. 18, 2006).".
  13. "White, J.J.". Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930. Retrieved 2011-03-16.
  14. "Rassmuson, Hans". Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930. Retrieved 2011-03-16.
  15. "Miller, Frank". Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930. Retrieved 2011-03-16.
  16. ISBN B000RB43NM
  17. Peter Carlson, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, W.W. Norton & Company, 1983, page 90
  18. Peter Carlson, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, W.W. Norton & Company, 1983, page 140
  19. Clark, Thomas D. (1970). Indiana University Midwestern Pioneer: The Early Years. Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press. pp. 257–260. ISBN 0-253-14170-2.
  20. Kellams, Dina (October 12, 2016). "Sincerely Yours: The Pinkerton Detective Agency". Blogging Hoosier History. Indiana University Libraries. Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  21. "Deputy Sheriff Edwin P. Daniels". The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP).
  22. Williams, David Ricardo (1998). Call in Pinkerton's: American Detectives at Work for Canada. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 1-550023-06-3.
  23. Morn, Frank (1982). The Eye That Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32086-0. p. 188-189
  24. Morn, Frank (1982). The Eye That Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32086-0. p. 192.
  25. "The Pinkertons TV Series". Rosetta Media and Buffalo Gal Pictures. Retrieved 2014-10-11.
  26. Andreeva, Nellie (July 23, 2014). "Angus Macfadyen Set To Play Allan Pinkerton In Syndicated Drama Series 'The Pinkertons'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 2014-10-11.

Further reading

External links

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