Today is the birthday of Allan Pinkerton

Today 25th August is the birthday of Allan Pinkerton born in 1819 in Glasgow. He began the first private detective agency in the USA – The Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1850.

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A cooper by trade, Pinkerton was an active Chartist. Disillusioned by the failure to win universal suffrage Pinkerton emigrated to the United States in 1842 at the age of 23.

In 1849 Pinkerton was appointed as the first detective in Chicago. In the 1850s along with Chicago attorney Edward Rucker he formed the North-Western Police Agency, later known as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency which still exists as a subsidiary of Securitas. Pinkerton’s business motto illustrated in the company’s insignia was a wide open eye – “We never sleep.” Pinkerton’s agency solved a series of train robberies during the 1850s as America stretched westward.

Pinkerton developed several investigative techniques including shadowing and surveillance of suspects and undercover work. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Pinkerton served as head of the Union Intelligence Service in 1861–62 and foiled an alleged assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland, while guarding Abraham Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. His agents often worked undercover as Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, in an effort to gather military intelligence. Pinkerton served several undercover missions under the alias of Major E.J. Allen.

Pinkerton’s Chartist past was very much behind him when he used his company to discover intelligence on trade unionists in the States and Pinkertons continued working against working people after Allan Pinkerton’s death including The Homestead Strike (1891), The Pullman Strike (1894), The Wild Bunch Gang (1896), The Ludlow Massacre (1914), The La Follette Committee (1933-1937).

Pinkertons has been accused of inciting riots to discredit unions and justify police crackdowns. Pinkertons was used by big business to protect strike-breakers and scabs and is associated with protecting the business property of the major industrialists including Andrew Carnegie.

In 1872, the Spanish Government hired Pinkerton to help suppress a revolution in Cuba which intended to end slavery and give citizens the right to vote.

‘Pinkerton’ became a slang term for private eye and is a derogatory term still within trade unions.

In late June 1884 he slipped on a pavement in Chicago, biting his tongue as he did so. He didn’t seek treatment and the tongue became infected, leading to his death on 1 July 1884. At the time of his death, he was working on a system that would centralize all criminal identification records, a database now maintained by the FBI.

Pinkerton is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. He is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

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