Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884) – Founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1850, Pinkerton was born at Glasgow, Scotland on August 25, 1819. Pinkerton worked as a barrel maker before immigrating to the United States in 1842. Settling near Chicago, Illinois, he went to work at Lill’s Brewery as a barrel maker but soon determined that working for himself would be more profitable for his family and they moved to a small town called Dundee, some forty miles from Chicago.
When he stumbled across a gang of counterfeiters, he was instrumental in their capture, which led to an appointment as the first detective with the Chicago police force. That same year, he, along with Chicago attorney, Edward Rucker, founded the North-Western Police Agency. When, the business floundered, Allan joined with his brother, Robert who had established himself as a railroad contractor in a business called “Pinkerton & Co.” When Allan joined up, the company name was changed to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided a variety of detective services, from private military contractors to security guards, but specialized in the capture of counterfeiters and train robbers.
In 1861, while investigating a railway case, the agency uncovered an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln, and was instrumental in foiling it. During the Civil War, President Lincoln hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to organize a “secret service” to obtain military information on the Confederates and sometimes act as Lincoln’s bodyguard. Working diligently, Allan Pinkerton traveled under the pseudonym of “Major E.J. Allen.” After the Civil War, Allan returned to his duties at the detective agency, which was often hired by the government to perform many of the same duties that are now regularly assigned to the Secret Service, the FBI, and the CIA. The agency also worked for the railroads and overland stage companies, playing an active role in chasing down a number of outlaws including Jesse James, the Reno Brothers, and Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch.
When Robert Pinkerton died in 1868, Allan assumed full control of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. However, just a year later, in the autumn of 1869, Allan suffered a paralyzing stroke which nearly killed him. However, Pinkerton recovered and continued to operate the agency until his death. Pinkerton passed away on July 1, 1884, and his agency was taken over by his sons, Robert and William, who continued the agency’s movement from detective work to security and protection.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August, 2017.