Allan Pinkerton was born into
poverty in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1819.
His father was a former policeman who could no
longer work due to injuries sustained on the job,
so Allan had to go to work as an apprentice
barrelmaker at an early age in order to help his
family. He married Joan Carfrae in 1842, and the
newlyweds immigrated to the United States that
Settling in Chicago, Pinkerton worked as a
barrelmaker at Lill's Brewery for a while before
deciding to go into business for himself. Moving
to Dundee, a predominantly Scottish town some
forty miles from Chicago, the quality of his
barrels and low prices quickly earned him success
and control of the market. Rather than buying
wood from vendors, Pinkerton decided to find his
own source. It was this business decision that
ultimately led to his founding of what is now one
of the world's largest security companies.
According to company history, Pinkerton was
looking for suitable trees on a small deserted
island in the middle of the Fox River when he
came across evidence of recent human activity.
Knowing that counterfeiters had been active in
the area, he notified the local sheriff and the
two ended up apprehending most of the
counterfeiters. Pinkerton was subsequently hired
as a part-time deputy, and also began getting
"private detective" jobs.
Pinkerton was hired by the Chicago Police
Department in 1847, and became that city's first
police detective in 1849. In 1850, he and Chicago
attorney Edward Rucker established the
North-Western Police Detective Agency, which
focused almost exclusively on railroad-related
crimes. He and
Rucker dissolved their partnership after about a
year, at which time Allan joined forces with his
brother Robert to form Pinkerton National
Detective Agency. The first
detective agency to set uniform fees and
establish a code of ethics for its investigators,
Pinkerton quickly gained a reputation for honesty
and efficiency. The agency also became well known
for pioneering a number of investigative tools,
which allowed it to solve most of the crimes it
was hired to solve.
In 1861, while investigating a railroad case,
the Pinkerton Agency uncovered a plot to kill
Lincoln on the train he was scheduled to take
to Washington. Thanks to Pinkerton's warning,
Lincoln's itinerary was changed and the plot was
foiled. During the Civil
War, President Lincoln hired the agency to
obtain military information on the Confederates
and to sometimes act as his bodyguard.
After the war, Pinkerton was often hired by
the government to perform many of the duties now
assigned to the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA.
Pinkerton agents also became notorious for their
relentless pursuit of "Wild West"
outlaws, including Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and
his Wild Bunch, and the Reno Brothers.
Allan Pinkerton assumed full control of the
agency upon Robert's death in 1868, but had to
turn that control over to his sons Robert and
William after suffering a paralyzing stroke in
1869. He died in Chicago on July 1, 1884.
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