Famous Investigators - Allan Pinkerton

1 February 2021
Allan Pinkerton (sursă foto: Wikipedia

Allan Pinkerton (photo source: Wikipedia)

Maybe Allan Pinkerton’s name does not tell you anything now. But Pinkerton was so well known in his days that his name became, for a long time, a slang synonym for “private detective.”

Allan Pinkerton was an investigator and spy born in Scotland but emigrated to the United States, who lived between 1819-1884 and founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

In 1849, Allan Pinkerton became the first police investigator in Chicago, Illinois. His appointment was made after, during a journey through the forest, he caught in action a gang of criminals, whose actions he took note of and about which he then informed the local sheriff, who arrested them.

One year after his appointment, together with a lawyer, Edward Rucker, he founded an investigative agency, which will eventually be called the Pinkerton National Investigative Agency.

As the U.S. railroad develops, the agency’s investigators, who will be named to this day, including, Pinkertons, have solved several cases of train robberies. This way, Allan Pinkerton gets to know Abraham Lincoln, who was at that moment, the lawyer of the Central Railroad in Illinois.

In late February 1861, while the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, was traveling to Washington D.C. for the inauguration, there was an alleged plot known as The Baltimore Plot. Its purpose was to assassinate Lincoln. Allan Pinkerton said he dismantled the plans to assassinate the president-elect, which made him famous. In addition, Abraham Lincoln hired Pinkerton investigators for his personal security throughout the Civil War. Between 1861 and 1863, the Scotsman was appointed Head of the Unionist Intelligence Service. Historians have not yet agreed on whether the threat was real or not, and opinions about the plot are still divided.

The Pinkerton Investigation Agency, whose logo was a wide-open eye followed by the slogan We Never Sleep, provides a variety of services, from security and protection to undercover investigations. The Pinkertons infiltrated the Confederate army and gathered valuable military information. Even Allan Pinkerton had several undercover missions, posing as E.J. Allen, a major in the Southern Army. He was exposed in Memphis and barely escaped alive.

The counterintelligence actions taken by Pinkerton investigators are considered a valuable precedent for the US Army’s counterintelligence service, which later led to the establishment of the US secret services.


The Civil War, The Battle of Antietam, September 1862.
From left to right: Allan Pinkerton, Pres. Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand.
Photograph from glass negative, by Alexander Gardner.

After the end of the Civil War, the Pinkertons continued to investigate and catch train robbers. The railway company hired Allan Pinkerton to catch Jesse James, the famous savage bandit. After failing, the employer withdrew his financial support, but the Scotsman continued to pursue Jesse James at his own expense. He gave up when the bandit allegedly captured and killed one of his undercover investigators. This is considered to be Allan Pinkerton’s biggest failure.

Although there are several accounts of his death, the best known says that the Scotsman died in Chicago, on July 1st, 1884, after falling on the sidewalk, biting his tongue and developing a gangrene.

The Pinkerton National Investigation Agency, which was the largest and most powerful private law enforcement organization that ever existed, hired women and minorities, something unheard of at the time. In fact, in 1856, Kate Warne – considered the first female detective in American history – was hired by Pinkerton’s agency.