1 minute read

Allan Pinkerton

A New Life, Creates Detective Business, America's Scotland Yard, The Molly Maguires

Born August 25, 1819 (Glasgow, Scotland)

Died July 1, 1884 (Chicago, Illinois)

Private investigator

Allan Pinkerton provided America with a national policing system at a time when there was little federal or state law enforcement. Credited as a reformer for popularizing private security, he focused primarily on crime prevention and investigation. During the American Civil War (1861–65; war in the United States between the Union [North], who was opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [South], who was in favor of slavery), Pinkerton organized the first government-authorized secret service agency in American history.

"The role of detective is a high and honorable calling."

From the Pinkerton National Detective Agency's code of conduct

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was among the first private detective agencies in the world. (A detective is a police officer or investigator who investigates crimes and obtains evidence or information.) Allan Pinkerton introduced a number of innovative tools and methods to investigating criminal activity. Dubbed "The Pinks" (short for Pinkerton), his agency handled much of America's criminal investigation before the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other modern police organizations.

Allan Pinkerton. (The Library of Congress)

For More Information


Lavine, Sigmund A. Allan Pinkerton: America's First Private Eye. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963.

Levinson, David, ed. Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002.

Mackay, James. Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996.

Web Sites

"The Molly Maguires." Providence College. http://www.providence.edu/polisci/students/molly_maguires/ (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Pinkerton Detective Agency." The National Archives Learning Curve. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USApinkertonD.htm (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law