Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Western - Pinkertons

Pinkerton Agents were a privately owned detective agency founded in 1850 by Allen Pinkerton. 

Pinkerton was born August 25, 1819 in Glasgow. After the death of his father, when Alan was still in elementary school he began working in factories from dawn to dusk for pennies. He later became a coopers apprentice and at the age of eighteen received his journeyman's card as full member of the Coopers of Glasgow and Suburbs Association. He became embroiled in the Chartist movement  which was ironic given the side he was on during the rise of the American Unions. 

In 1842, due to his activities with the Chartists, Pinkerton found himself an outlaw with a price on his head.  He secretly married Joan Carfrae and they headed to America. He set up a coopers shop in Dundee, Ohio.

It was his curiosity, that in 1847, began Pinkerton's destiny. While visiting an island where he cut down the trees he used for his staves and hoops on his barrels, he discovered a camp fire. Curious because no one lived on the island and people didn't just to out camping at that time, he checked on it several days and when that gave him nothing, he staked it out at night. That night he heard the approach of oars dipping in the water and watched several people come ashore, and the fire was lit. He notified the sheriff and they watched the island. They gathered a posse and caught a band of counterfeiters.

After that Pinkerton became more alert and had an sixth sense about people who were not "on the up". He wore a deputies badge as he made barrels and helped to alleviate crime in his area. His detective work of one John Craig, put his name on the lips of everyone and he soon had people from all over the county asking him to do detective work for them. 

Realizing his calling, he moved to Chicago and set up his agency. He used undercover tactics and keeping tedious records on the persons of interest and even doing sketches. It was this meticulous eye for detail that helped to capture many criminals and started the "Criminal Identification" system that is now the basis of the database used by the F.B.I. He was also the first to use "shadowing", surveillance and "assuming a role", going undercover.

Later his sons, William and Robert, joined their father at the agency. They had offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, New York City, and PhiladelphiaAt the height of the agency it was the largest private law enforcement agency in the world. 

They operated nationwide, working for railroad and stage companies as well as the influential. Their logo is the image of an eye and their motto was “We Never Sleep”. They performed the work done these days by the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service. In 1861 while investigating a railroad case they uncovered and foiled a plot to kill Abraham Lincoln on his way to the inauguration. 

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