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The History of Private Security

Updated on December 7, 2009

From the moment our ancestors figured out there was a difference between ‘mine’ and ‘ours’ there became a need for private security. Since its humble origins in Ancient Egypt on through to the recent events of our post 9/11 world mankind continues to need the industries of private security.

One of the earliest recorded examples of private security forces being utilized dates back to the thirteenth century B.C. Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses the II hired Nubians (popularly known as Medjai), Libyans, Syrians, and Sherdens (from Sardinia) to compliment Egyptian’s own military and security forces. This established practice continued and evolved in ancient Rome where the wealthy hired private security personnel (usually consisting of soldiers who hired themselves out between military campaigns) to protect their families and property. Around Four Hundred A.D., during the Byzantine empire, the emperors contracted foreigners for their own personal security, forming the Varangion Guard.

Private security flourished during the Middle Ages both in Western Europe and Asia. In China and Japan the elite classes utilized private security to protect themselves and their property from the encroaching Mongol Hordes. Italian and Chinese warlords procured private security to guard their bases and fight in military campaigns. Once this started happening on a regular basis the private soldiers in these areas began to form structured private organizations.

In 1214 A.D. the English King John, under pressure by his barons, approved the Magna Carta. The lines ‘No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned,...or in any other way destroyed...except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice’ (Vincent) established due process for citizens. Later in the same century in 1285 A.D. the Statute of Winchester (also known as the Statute of Westminster) established many security concepts for each village, and the citizens, to adhere to. The concept of ‘hue and cry’, whereby it was each and every citizen’s obligation to apprehend felons came from this statute. This concept included the practices of ‘citizen’s arrest’ as well as posse comitatus – the institution of a sheriff’s right to form a posse of citizens to pursue and capture criminals – both of which are used today by private security and public officers. The statute also demanded certain physical security measures took place such as closing village gates at nightfall, clearing brush and debris for a space of two hundred feet on each side of the king’s highway, as well as the establishment of patrols and night watches. Between the fourteenth and eighteen centuries, fueled by social revolution as feudalism ended, systems of security and protection grew. In 1689 English Parliament agreed to crown William and Mary if they reaffirmed citizen’s rights, which they did with a Bill of Rights. By the 1700s an increasing number of citizens moved to larger cities creating many hardships; crime, poverty, and violence were widespread, creating an even stronger need for security. Tax revenues were used for the first time in 1737, in a precedent setting step, to pay for the night watch patrolling city streets. Harry Fielding, a magistrate and author, proposed in 1748 the founding of a permanent well paid professional security force. The concept of preventing crime instead of trying to control it is attributed to this man.

The onset of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent factories produced yet more criminal opportunities resulting in an epidemic of crime. Although during his time as Home Secretary, starting in 1822, Sir Robert Peel created the criminal law reform bill to make urban police forces more efficient private security forces continued to prosper. America followed the example set by England’s security measures. In the 1850s Allan Pinkerton (a former Chicago police detective) created the Pinkerton Agency, his own private security agency. Although primary employment for the Pinkerton Agency was the booming railroads crisscrossing the country, his security forces even branched out into espionage during the Civil War, hired by President Abraham Lincoln. Other Security firms were created shortly thereafter such as Wells Fargo and Brinks. The first burglar alarm system was sold by Edwin Holmes in 1858 after he purchased the system designed by Augustus Pope. There seems to be some controversy as to when the first proprietary security forces arose, but many sources attribute Henry Ford as the man who refined ‘in house’ security to factory work. As the automobile gained popularity so the industries providing the necessary materials for the factories producing them across the nation needed and utilized private security personnel. With the high unemployment and possibility of crime due to the Great Depression private security further embedded itself within industry. Then with the war raging in Europe President Roosevelt passed an executive order giving the U.S. War Department mandate to procure and train private security to guard against any threat to U.S. industry. This was done due to a Lend-Lease Program the U.S. government had passed to provide war items to Allied countries in March, 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor late that year we joined the war. As factories across America needed to produce more and more war materials the need for private security grew. By the middle of the war private security patrolled and protected more than ten thousand factories in our nation.

Once the war ended our federal government had set a standard which defense contracted companies continued to follow: it was expected that any and all companies desiring government contracts had to provide documentation and proof as evidence that they had a well detailed security plan in place to protect from Cold War espionage. Private sector companies quickly adopted similar measures to protect themselves from theft. Thus the first generation of private security managers was born, utilizing technological advances to further the efficiency of their guard and systems.

These practices have continued to evolve over the years as computer technology has increased the abilities and spectrum of the security industry. After the events of 9/11 industry need, and public reliance, for private security came to the forefront again. As these needs coincide with the shrinking budgets of public law enforcement, private security will continue to grow.

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    • dyonder profile imageAUTHOR

      D A Moore 

      3 years ago from Colorado

      Kyle, that virtual tour is excellent - wondering what happened for two thousand years though, between 3150BC and 1760 AD (perhaps more of a focus on early cryptology would be due ;)

      Candice, there would definitely be some enlightenment in such research, comparing security before and after such an event in such a country . Plainsclothes is the way to go, especially when used in concert with cctv (to be used as evidence if necessary)

      Norah, I agree full heartedly (wouldn't matter if I didn't, the truth of the egyptian contribution to modern day is inviolable) It makes one curious about the knowledge lost over the years since their time

      Alex, would love to, but that would take away all the fun. The search is more enlightening

    • profile image

      Alex Fuentes 

      4 years ago

      Where is cite page? I would like to use you as a credited author but I don't see your references.

    • profile image

      Norah Chandler 

      4 years ago

      It is interesting to know that private security was used early on by Egyptians. There are so many things that modern society owes to ancient Egyptian culture. Security is still important today although it is much more high tech now than it was in the days of old Pharaohs.

      Norah Chandler http://www.unimetsecurity.com

    • profile image

      Candice Harding 

      4 years ago

      Great hub! I think it would be really interesting to compare on site security before 9/11 and how it's changed (or stayed the same) since. It has definitely affected national security, but I would be interested in looking into what it has done to private security. It's always been fascinating to look at what kind of businesses hire security and how they utilize it. I used to work for a major retailer and we had no identified security personnel (our loss prevention team dressed in plain clothes and mostly worked with the surveillance system) except during Black Friday sales, but some of that retailer's competitors employ miniature armies of personnel in matching uniforms to dissuade shoplifters.

      Candice Harding

      http://www.intellexsecurity.com/our-team/

    • profile image

      Kyle 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for this piece. You can see a visual overview of this by a cloud security company. Cool site on security through the ages. www.perspecsys.com/history. Worth checking out.

    • dyonder profile imageAUTHOR

      D A Moore 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      absolutely

    • profile image

      js 

      5 years ago

      Do you want the key dates of private (commercial or non commercial) security in France? It is very interresting...

    • profile image

      js 

      5 years ago

      In 1833 in France, Vidock founded the first private investigation agency "Bureau de renseignement pour le commerce".

    • profile image

      Evans mose 

      6 years ago

      Thanks give us more info,..

    • dyonder profile imageAUTHOR

      D A Moore 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you, Billy

    • profile image

      Billy 

      7 years ago

      Very detailed information, thanks for sharing.

    • dyonder profile imageAUTHOR

      D A Moore 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you, DavidLivingston.

    • profile image

      DavidLivingston 

      7 years ago

      This is a nice post. Thanks for sharing this hub.

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