Pinkerton, Allan Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The founder of one of America’s best-known detective agencies, Pinkerton believed in the need to change unjust laws; his principles made him a militant force against slavery.

Allan Pinkerton left school at ten to become a cooper (barrelmaker). A militant Chartist, he advocated reforms such as universal manhood suffrage, then a radical idea in Great Britain. Fearing arrest for his activities, Pinkerton with his wife left for the United States in 1842, settling in Dundee, Illinois.Pinkerton, AllanScottish immigrants;Allan Pinkerton[Pinkerton]Pinkerton, AllanScottish immigrants;Allan Pinkerton[Pinkerton][cat]EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS;Pinkerton, Allan[04190][cat]CRIME;Pinkerton, Allan[04190][cat]LAW ENFORCEMENT;Pinkerton, Allan[04190][cat]BIOGRAPHIES;Pinkerton, Allan[04190]

Allan Pinkerton (front left) during the Civil War.

(Library of Congress)

Pinkerton was successful as a cooper, and his antislavery activities aroused community hostility. His friends included former slave Douglass, FrederickFrederick Douglass, and his home was a stop on the Underground RailroadUnderground Railroad for escaped slaves. Shortly after exposing the activities of a band of currency counterfeiters in 1846, Pinkerton moved to Chicago, where he became deputy county sheriff and special agent for the U.S. Post Office. In 1850, he formed the North-West Detective Agency (later renamed Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency), establishing the first American national law-enforcement agency at a time when public officers honored local and state jurisdictional lines and did not cooperate. In 1856, he hired Kate Warne, the first American female detective. Pinkerton continued abolitionist activities. He thwarted a plot to kill President Lincoln, AbrahamAbraham Lincoln, created the first American military intelligence unit, and personally spied behind enemy lines.

In 1869, Pinkerton suffered a debilitating stroke, never fully recovering. Because of his increasingly erratic activity and his involvement in the controversial Molly Maguires;and Allen Pinkerton[Pinkerton]Molly Maguire and Jesse James cases, his sons Robert and William controlled his agency. In his last years, Pinkerton turned to writing; his name appeared on eighteen books, mostly by ghostwriters.Pinkerton, AllanScottish immigrants;Allan Pinkerton[Pinkerton]

Further Reading
  • Josephson, Judith Pinkerton. Allan Pinkerton: The Original Private Eye. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner, 1996.
  • Mackay, James. Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye. 1997. Edison, N.J.: Castle Books, 2007.

Abolitionist movement

British immigrants


Civil War, U.S.

Molly Maguires

Categories: History