The Pinkerton Detective Agency
In the mid to late 19th century, there were few police forces, few public security forces, and the US Military was quite small. Such times allowed for private security, law enforcement, and military forces to thrive. The largest and most powerful private security firm in the world at the time was the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton. During the later half of the 1800’s, if you needed a stagecoach full of valuables guarded, needed to protect a train from robbers, needed the services of mercenaries, needed a private detective, or even needed a bounty hunter to hunt down a notorious outlaw, “The Pinkerton Guards” were your go to guys.
Most of the Agency’s services focused on providing security guards to protect wagons, trains, and stagecoaches transporting valuables, especially bank and payroll funds. However the Pinkerton Agency could provide a large number of special agents for a variety of services. During the American Civil War, the US Government hired Pinkerton Agents as bodyguards for Abraham Lincoln, other politicians, and Union Generals. Unfortunately for Lincoln the man assigned as his bodyguard the night of his assassination was not a Pinkerton Guard, but an incompetent local police officer. Pinkerton Agents could also serve as detectives, trackers, and bounty hunters. In 1895 a Pinkerton Detective named Frank Geyer became famous for tracking down and apprehending the infamous serial killer H. H. Holmes, who operated a hotel in Chicago where he tortured, mutilated, and murdered somewhere between 27 to 200 people. Perhaps the most famous case of the Pinkerton Detective Agency was their nationwide hunt for the “Hole in the Wall Gang”, a pursuit that was so dogged Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was forced to flee to South America.
At its height the Pinkerton Detective Agency had tens of thousands of employees and sported more armed men than the US Army. In fact, in some cases the Pinkerton Agency could provided uniformed soldiers for private military contracts. Despite the Agency’s wide variety of services, the Pinkerton’s became most notorious for their use by wealthy industrialists as strike breakers. In the 1870’s Pinkerton Agents successfully infiltrated and broke up the “Molly Maguires” in the Pennsylvania coal mines. Pinkerton Agents also took part in breaking mining strikes in Colorado and West Virginia, including the infamous Ludlow Massacre. In 1892 300 Pinkerton Agents were hired by Henry Frick to protect Andrew Carnegie’s steel factories from striking workers in Homestead near Pittsburgh. It is unknown who fired the first shot, but the agents opened fire on the strikers, killing 16 and wounding 23 others.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Pinkerton Detective Agency began to decline as local, state, and federal government agencies began to take over their duties. The Agency saw a revival during World War I and Prohibition. Today the Pinkerton Detective Agency is now called “Pinkerton Corporate Risk Management” and operates as a security company under ownership of the Swedish company Securitas Critical Infrastructure Services, Inc.