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Allan Pinkerton’s Effect on Modern Day Private Security and Law Enforcement

Updated on December 5, 2016

The Beginning

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1819 and moved to the United States in 1842. Before being named America’s first private eye, Pinkerton worked as a barrel maker in Chicago Illinois. His fist interaction with law enforcement came when he was out gathering wood and “discovered the lair of a gang of counterfeiters and had them arrested” (“Biography: Allan Pinkerton’s Detective Agency”, 2013). Pinkerton’s assist in the arrest of the counterfeiters led to him being appointed as deputy sheriff of Kane County.

After becoming deputy sheriff of Kane County, Allan Pinkerton became Chicago’s first full time detective. Shortly after, in 1850 Allan left the Chicago police department and created his own detective agency. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, one of the first agencies of its kind “provided a wide array of private detective services and specialized in the capture of train robbers and counterfeiters” ("The New Nation", n.d.). With this revolutionary agency came the Pinkerton Code, according to “History” (2013) the code was: accept no bribes, never compromise with criminals, partner with local law enforcement agencies, refuse divorce cases or cases that initiate scandals, turn down reward money (agents were well paid), never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge, and keep clients apprised on an on-going basis.

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Kate Warne

Allan Pinkerton and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency had a large impact on law enforcement and the private security industry. Right from the start, Pinkerton’s agency worked with law enforcement agencies all across the country to apprehend criminals. In 1856 Pinkerton hired the first female detective in the United States, Kate Warne. Innovations like these have had an impact on the type of people that work in law enforcement and in the private security industry and how these separate agencies work together.

Allan Pinkerton, seen here with President Lincoln and Major General John A. McClernand, saved Lincoln's life by warning him of an assassination attempt

The Early Years

The early years of the agency were focused on the protection of railroad shipments for several railways. Pinkerton was asked to create a railroad police agency and the result was the North West Police Agency. Allan Pinkerton was also “under contract with the federal government to investigate counterfeiting and protect the Post Office from robbery” (Clifford, 2004, P. 51). However, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was destined for greater things. In 1861, “Pinkerton uncovers and foils and assassination plot on the life of Abraham Lincoln and conducts him safely through the ranks of treason to his first inauguration” ("History", 2013). Between 1861 and 1865 Pinkerton was the head of the Union Intelligence Service, this was the beginning of what we now know as the United States Secret Service.

Impact on Modern Day Law Enforcement and Private Security

Allan Pinkerton and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency had many impacts on modern day law enforcement and private security. Pinkerton’s agency had many firsts in both fields; they were hired by both the government and private businesses to investigate and capture criminals and provide security to businesses and government officials. The agency is famous for pursuing outlaws like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, and the younger, but when it comes to impacting private security and law enforcement, the creation of the first criminal database played a huge role. The Pinkerton Agency filed news paper clippings and mug shots as a way to help with future investigations. Innovations like these are what gave the framework to modern day private security and law enforcement.

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Biography: Allan Pinkerton's detective agency. (2013). Retrieved from

The new nation. (n.d.). Retrieved from

History. (2013). Retrieved from

Clifford, M. (2004). Identifying and exploring security essentials. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


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