Every Little Bit: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

Every little bit of history alwys leads back to another bit of history. When I look at the modern police force, security firms, the F.B,I., and the C.I.A., they all lead back to one organization: The Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Yes, the same people who aided Lincoln during the Civil War and chased after train and bank robbers are the same agency who developed most of the methods used today in modern law enforcement.

In the 1800s, the Pinkertons were the Police, the Army, and the CIA all rolled into one. Aside from stakeouts, bounty hunters, and strike breaking, they were the hired guns of corporations and Presidents alike.Pinkerton promised to:

accept no bribes, never compromise with criminals, partner with local law enforcement agencies, turn down reward money, and apprise clients on an ongoing basis.

For Pinkerton, no job was too small and no record too insignificant. If anything else, the Pinkertons were meticulous record keepers. One of the most pioneering aspects of 19th century crime fighting comes from the Pinkertons. The mug shot revolutionized law enforcement. They would not only get pictures of the intended targets, but also record everything about them. By taking photography to another level, the Pinkertons went global in pursuit of offenders – extradition treaties be damned.

Starting in the 1850s, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was built by the genius of one man – Alan Pinkerton. The Scottish immigrant built the organization through hard work and a reputation for getting the job done. It was Pinkerton who came up with the plan to sneak Abraham Lincoln into Washington under the cover of darkness in 1861. Throughout the war, Pinkerton and his agents did spying for the Union and Pinkerton often traveled with and for Lincoln.

After the war, Pinkertons continued to do work in the days before the Secret Service, the FBI, and the CIA. In fact, they are the models for these organizations. Everything about security for trains, banks, and factories was perfected by the eye that never sleeps. Most people think the Pinkerton National Detective Agency died out with the Wild West. In fact, it continued to thrive throughout the 20th century and was bought out by Securitas a few years ago.

Alan Pinkerton’s Thirty Years a Detective is a collection of his stories of adventures in the mid 1800s. It is an interesting tale. There was never a lead too insignificant. There was never an event too insignificant. Almost every major event or legend of the later half of the 1800s came in contact with a Pinkerton man. From Lincoln to Grant to Jesse James to The Hole in the Wall Gang to owners of factories, trains, and even the common man all knew what amounted to a national police force for hire. Every little bit of their history is filled with a richness not seen in many businesses nor any person of any era of American History.


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