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Alan Pinkerton

He Founded America’s Most Daring Private Detective Agency

Since 1850 no private detective agency in America has been as well known as the Pinkerton Agency. Its story is closely entwined with the history of America. ■ Allan Pinkerton was born August 25, 1819, the son of a Glasgow police sergeant. After finishing his apprenticeship as a cooper, he emigrated in 1842 to Chicago, then a rough, tough, bustling frontier town. ■ Pinkerton moved a year later to Dundee, a small town 50 miles west of Chicago. While cutting wood on a deserted river island, he discovered and captured a gang of counterfeiters. He was appointed Kane County deputy sheriff and was soon back in Chicago as a deputy sheriff for Cook County. He resigned in 1850 to start his own detective agency. ■ The agency became famous overnight by its spectacular news-making activities. Successes included the apprehension of the principals in a $700,000 Adams Express Company theft and nipping in the bud a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln in 1861 in Baltimore. Pinkerton was a leading information gatherer in the South for the benefit of the North during the Civil War. ■ The Pinkerton Agency turned to labor activist surveillance after the Civil War. It effectively infiltrated an organized gang of labor terrorists known as the Molly Maguires. Pinkerton’s agency broke up the Molly Maguires. ■ During the labor unrest of the 1870s, Pinkerton was widely condemned for the agency’s harsh attitude toward labor unions. ■ In his writings before his death in Chicago July 1, 1884, Pinkerton thought he was helping workers by opposing labor unions. He wrote Thirty Years a Detective, The Spy of the Rebellion, and The Detective.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546