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Pinkerton Detective Agency

Pinkerton Detective Agency

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Allan Pinkerton, a deputy-sheriff in Chicago, formed the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1852. The first detective agency in the United States, it solved a series of train robberies. In 1861 the agency was given the task of guarding Abraham Lincoln. While in Baltimore, while on the way to the inauguration, Pinkerton foiled a plot to assassinate the president.

Pinkerton became head of the American secret service during the Civil War and in 1875 used an agent, James McParland, to infiltrate the secret organization, the Molly Maguires. McParlan's evidence in court resulted in the execution of twenty of its members.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency was a great success. On the facade of his three-story Chicago headquarters was the company slogan, "We Never Sleep". Above this was a huge, black and white eye. The Pinkerton logo was the origin of the term private eye.

In 1873 Franklin B. Gowen, president of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, had a meeting with Allan Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Gowen had considerable investments in the coal-mines of Schuylkill County and feared that the trade union activities of John Siney and the Workingmen's Benevolent Association would result in lower profits.

Allan Pinkerton decided to send James McParland to Schuylkill County. Assuming the alias of James McKenna, he found work as a labourer in Shenandoah. Soon afterwards he joined the Workingmen's Benevolent Association and the Shenandoah branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an organisation for Irish immigrants run by the Roman Catholic clergy.

After a few months of investigations McParland reported back to Allan Pinkerton that some members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians were also active in the secret organization, the Molly Maguires. McParland estimated that the group had about 3,000 members. Each county was governed by a bodymaster who recruited members and gave out orders to commit crimes. These bodymasters were usually ex-miners who now worked as saloon keepers.

Over a two year period James McParland collected evidence about the criminal activities of the Molly Maguires. This included the murder of around fifty men in Schuylkill County. Many of these men were the managers of coal mines in the region.

John Kehoe, one of the leaders of the Molly Maguires became suspicious of McParland and began to investigate his past. McParland was tipped off that Kehoe was planning to murder him so he fled from the area.

In 1876 and 1877 James McParland was the star witness for the prosecution of John Kehoe and the Molly Maguires. Twenty members were found guilty of murder and were executed. This included Kehoe, a former union leader who was convicted of a murder that had taken place fourteen years previously.

After Allan Pinkerton died in 1884, the Pinkerton Detective Agency was run by his two sons, Robert Pinkerton and William Pinkerton. The brothers opened their fourth office in Denver. They appointed James McParland and Charlie Siringo to run the Pinkerton's western division.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency often supplied men to break strikes. In 1892 the Amalgamated Iron and Steel Workers Union called out its members at the Homestead plant owned by Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick. The men were brought in on armed barges down the Monongahela River. The strikers were waiting for them and a day long battle took place. Seven Pinkerton agents and nine workers were killed and created a great deal of bad publicity for the agency.

In 1906 James McParland was called in to investigate the murder of Frank Steunenberg, the governor of Idaho. McParland was convinced from the beginning that the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners had arranged the killing of Steunenberg. McParland arrested Harry Orchard, a stranger who had been staying at a local hotel. In his room they found dynamite and some wire.

McParland helped Orchard to write a confession that he had been a contract killer for the WFM, assuring him this would help him get a reduced sentence for the crime. In his statement, Orchard named William Hayward (general secretary of WFM) and Charles Moyer (president of WFM). He also claimed that a union member from Caldwell, George Pettibone, had also been involved in the plot. These three men were arrested and were charged with the murder of Steunenberg.

Charles Darrow, a man who specialized in defending trade union leaders, was employed to defend Hayward, Moyer and Pettibone. The trial took place in Boise, the state capital. It emerged that Orchard already had a motive for killing Steunenberg, blaming the governor of Idaho, for destroying his chances of making a fortune from a business he had started in the mining industry.

During the three month trial, the prosecutor was unable to present any information against Hayward, Moyer and Pettibone except for the testimony of Orchard. William Hayward, Charles Moyer and George Pettibone were all acquitted. Orchard, because he had provided evidence against the other men, received life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.

In 1912 Charlie Siringo published a book, A Cowboy Detective: A True Story of Twenty-Two Years With A World-Famous Detective Agency, where he claimed that James McParland had ordering him to commit voter fraud in the re-election attempt of Colorado Governor James Peabody. This view is supported by historian Mary Joy Martin who argued in The Corpse On Boomerang Road (2004): "McParland would stop at nothing to take down (unions such as the Western Federation of Miners) because he believed his authority came from "Divine Providence." To carry out God's Will meant he was free to break laws and lie until every man he judged evil was hanging on the gallows. Since his days in Pennsylvania he was comfortable lying under oath. In the Haywood trial and the Adams trials, he lied frequently, even claiming he never joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Documents showed he had."

Charlie Siringo, who had worked for more than twenty years under James McParland in the Pinkerton's western division based in Denver, claimed that the agency had been guilty of "jury tampering, fabricated confessions, false witnesses, bribery, intimidation, and hiring killers for its clients... Documents and time sustained many of his assertions."

In the summer of 1917, Frank Little was helping organize workers in the metal mines of Montana. This included leading a strike of miners working for the Anaconda Company. In the early hours of 1st August, 1917, six masked men broke into Little's hotel room in Butte. He was beaten up, tied by the rope to a car, and dragged out of town, where he was lynched. A note: "First and last warning" was pinned to his chest. No serious attempt was made by the police to catch Little's murderers. It is not known if he was killed for his anti-war views or his trade union activities.

The lawyer representing the Anaconda Company said a few days later: "These Wobblies, snarling their blasphemies in filthy and profane language; they advocate disobedience of the law, insults to our flag, disregard of all property rights and destruction of the principles and institutions which are the safeguards of society.... Why, Little, the man who was hanged in Butte, prefaced his seditious and treasonable speeches with the remark that he expected to be arrested for what he was going to say... The Wobblies... have invariably shown themselves to be bullies, anarchists and terrorists. These things they do openly and boldly."

Lillian Hellman claimed in Scoundrel Time (1976) that Dashiell Hammett, while working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Montana, turned down an offer of $5,000 to "do away with" Frank Little. Hellman recalled: "Through the years he was to repeat that bribe offer (to kill Frank Little) so many times, that I came to believe, knowing him now, that it was a kind of key to his life. He had given a man the right to think he would murder, and the fact that Frank Little was lynched with three other men in what was known as the Everett Massacre must have been, for Hammett, an abiding horror. I think I can date Hammett's belief that he was living in a corrupt society from Little's murder."

Is there a man in this audience, looking at me now, and hearing me denounce this association, who longs to point his pistol at me ? I tell him that he has as good chance here as he will ever have again. I tell him that if there is another murder in this county, committed by this organization, every one of the five hundred members of the order in this county or out of it. who connives at it, will be guilty of murder in the first degree, and can be hanged by the neck until he is dead. I tell him that if there is another murder in this county by this society, there will be an inquisition for blood with which nothing that has been known in the annals of criminal jurist prudence can compare.

And to whom are we indebted for this security, of which I now boast? To whom do we owe all this? Under the divine providence of God, to whom be all the honor and all the glory, we owe this safety to James McParland; and if there ever was a man to whom the people of this county should erect a monument, it is James McParland the detective. It is simply a question between the Molly Maguires on the one side, and Pinkerton's Detective Agency on the other; and I know too well that Pinkerton's Detective Agency will win. There is not a place on the habitable globe where these men can find refuge and in which they will not be tracked down.

The origin and development of the Molly Maguires will always present a hard problem to the social philosopher, who will, perhaps, find some subtle relation between crime and coal. One understands the act of an ordinary murderer who kills from greed, or fear, or hatred; but the Molly Maguires killed men and women with whom they had had no dealings, against whom they had no personal grievances, and from whose death they had nothing to gain, except, perhaps, the price of a few rounds of whiskey. They committed murders by the score, stupidly, brutally, as a driven ox turns to left or right at the word of command, without knowing why, and without caring. The men who decreed these monstrous crimes did so for the most trivial reasons—a reduction in wages, a personal dislike, some imagined grievance of a friend. These were sufficient to call forth an order to burn a house where women and children were sleeping, to shoot down in cold blood an employer or fellow workman, to lie in wait for an officer of the law and club him to death. In the trial of one of them, Mr. Franklin B. Gowen described the reign of these ready murderers as a time "when men retired to their homes at eight or nine o'clock in the evening and no one ventured beyond the precincts of his own door; when every man engaged in any enterprise of magnitude, or connected with industrial pursuits' left his home in the morning with his hand upon his pistol, unknowing whether he would again return alive; when the very foundations of society were being overturned."

McParland would stop at nothing to take down (unions such as the Western Federation of Miners) because he believed his authority came from "Divine Providence." To carry out God's Will meant he was free to break laws and lie until every man he judged evil was hanging on the gallows. Documents showed he had.

Through the years he was to repeat that bribe offer (to kill Frank Little) so many times, that I came to believe, knowing him now, that it was a kind of key to his life. I think I can date Hammett's belief that he was living in a corrupt society from Little's murder.

It was in a boardinghouse in Butte, Montana, in 1917 that the owner, Mrs. Nora Byrne, was awakened one night by voices in the room next to hers, room 30, men's voices saying there must he some mistake here, and then feet in the hall, then men at her door, pushing it open, and Mrs. Byrne, having jumped out of bed, held her door with all her strength as some men with guns pushed it in anyway. They held the gun on her, saying, "Where is Frank Little?" and she told them. Then they went away again, and kicked down the door of room 32 and went in and woke the man sleeping there, who made no outcry or objection and demanded no explanation. Because he had a broken leg, they had to carry him out.

Then, in the morning, he was found hanging from the trestle with a warning to others pinned to his underwear. Some people said his balls had been cut off. The warning came from the Montana vigilantes, though it was hard to see what the citizens of Montana stood to gain from the death of this poor man. Only the mine owners stood to gain from the death of this agitator, a Wobbly. Wobblies were stirring up a lot of trouble among the miners at Butte.

"These Wobblies," said the mine owner's lawyer a few days later, "snarling their blasphemies in filthy and profane language; they advocate disobedience of the law, insults to our flag, disregard of all property rights and destruction of the principles and institutions which are the safeguards of society." He was trying to show that Mr. Little had brought his lynching on himself. "Why, Little, the man who was hanged in Butte, prefaced his seditious and treasonable speeches with the remark that he expected to be arrested for what he was going to say." Perhaps he had not expected, however, to he hanged, but what were decent Americans to do with such rascals?

The mine owner's lawyer, noticing no contradiction, inconsistency or irony, proclaimed that the Wobblies "have invariably shown themselves to be bullies, anarchists and terrorists. These things they do openly and boldly," unlike (he did not add) all the decent American vigilantes who came masked by night. The young Hammett, in Montana at the time, noticed the ironies and inconsistencies with particular interest because men had come to him and to other Pinkerton agents and had proposed that they help do away with Frank Little. There was a bonus in it, they told him, of $5,000, an enormous sum in those days.

Hammett's inclinations had probably always been on the side of law and order. His father had once been a justice of the peace and always went to the law when necessary with confidence, for instance, when his buggy was damaged by the potholes on the public road; and he worked for a lock-and-safe company, and at other times as a watchman or a guard. There was thus in the family a brief for caring about the property of others, putting oneself at risk so that things in general should be safe and secure.

But at some moment - perhaps at the moment he was asked to murder Frank Little or perhaps at the moment that he learned that Little had been killed, possibly by other Pinkerton men - Hammett saw that the actions of the guards and the guarded, of the detective and the man he's stalking, are reflexes of a single sensibility, on the fringe where murderers and thieves live. He saw that he himself was on the fringe or might be, in his present line of work, and was expected to be, according to a kind of oath of fealty that he and other Pinkerton men took.

He also learned something about the lives of poor miners, whose wretched strikes the Pinkerton people were hired to prevent, and about the lies of mine owners. These things were to sit in the back of his mind.

And just as he learned about the lot of poor miners, and about the aims of trade unions, so at some point he learned about the rich. He saw their houses - maybe as a Pinkerton man, or maybe it was back in Baltimore that he noticed the furniture and pictures in rich people's houses, different from the crowded parlor on North Stricker Street, or from the boardinghouses and cheap hotels he stayed in.

History of the Pinkerton Agency

In 1842, Allan Pinkerton immigrated to the Chicago area and opened a cooperage or barrel-making business. Five years later, his detective career began when he stumbled upon a band of counterfeiters while scrounging for lumber on an island in the Fox River. The Scotsman conducted very informal surveillance on the gang who had the counterfeits and was hailed as a local hero after he had helped police make arrests.

Around 1850, he opened the private investigation firm that became the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. When the Pinkerton agency first made its name in the late-1850s for hunting down outlaws and providing private security for railroads, the company’s profile grew, its iconic logo—a large, unblinking eye accompanied by the slogan “We Never Sleep”—gave rise to the term “private eye” as a nickname for detectives.

In 1856, a 23-year-old widow named Kate Warne walked into the Pinkerton’s Chicago office and requested a job as a detective. Allan Pinkerton was hesitant to hire a female investigator, but he gave in when Warner convinced him that she could “worm out secrets in many places to which male detectives couldn’t gain access.” True to her word, Warne proved to Pinkerton that she was an expert at working undercover, once busting a thief by cozying up to his wife and convincing her to reveal the location of the loot. In another case, she got a suspect to feed the crucial information by disguising herself as a fortune-teller. Pinkerton listed Warner as one of the best investigators he ever had and after her death in 1868, Allan had he buried in his family plot.

One of the many ways the Pinkertons revolutionized law enforcement was with their so-called “Rogues’ Gallery,” a collection of mug shots and case histories that the agency used to research and keep track of wanted men. Along with noting suspects’ distinguishing marks and scars, agents also collected newspaper clippings and generated rap sheets detailing their previous arrests, known associates and areas of expertise. A more sophisticated criminal library wouldn’t be assembled until the early 20th century and the birth of the FBI.

Shortly before Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration in March 1861, Allan Pinkerton traveled to Baltimore on a mission for a railroad company. The detective was investigating rumors that Southern sympathizers might sabotage the rail lines to Washington, D.C., but while gathering undercover intelligence, he learned that a secret cabal also planned to assassinate Lincoln—then on a whistle-stop tour—as he switched trains in Baltimore on his way to the capital.

Pinkerton immediately tracked down the president-elect and informed him of the alleged plot. With the help of Kate Warne and several other agents, he then arranged for Lincoln to secretly board an overnight train and pass through Baltimore several hours ahead of his published schedule. Pinkerton operatives also cut telegraph lines to ensure the conspirators couldn’t communicate with one another, and Warne had Lincoln pose as her invalid brother to cover up his identity. none of the would-be assassins was ever arrested, leading some historians to conclude that the threat may have been exaggerated or even invented by Pinkerton.

Allan Pinkerton was a staunch abolitionist and Union man, and during the Civil War, he organized a secret intelligence service for General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Operating under the name E.J. Allen, Pinkerton set up spy rings behind enemy lines and infiltrated southern sympathizer groups in the North. He even had agents interview escaped slaves to glean information about the Confederacy. The operation produced reams of intelligence, but not all of it proved accurate. A famous misstep came during 1862’s Peninsula Campaign when Pinkerton reported that the Confederate forces around Richmond were more than twice their actual size. McClellan believed the faulty Intel, and despite outnumbering the rebels by a large margin, he delayed his advance and made repeated calls for reinforcements.

Allan Pinkerton

During the era of frontier expansion, express companies and railroads often employed the Pinkertons as Wild West bounty hunters. The agency famously infiltrated the Reno gang—perpetrators of the nation’s first train robbery—and later chased after Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. The Pinkertons usually got their man, but in the 1870s, they spent months engaged in a fruitless hunt for the bank robbers Jesse and Frank James. One of their agents was murdered while trying to infiltrate the brothers’ Missouri-based gang, and two more died in a shootout. The hunt came to a bloody end in 1875, when the Pinkertons launched a raid on the James brothers’ mother’s house in Clay County, Missouri. Frank and Jesse were nowhere to be found—they’d been tipped off—but the Pinkertons got into an argument with their mother, Zerelda Samuel.

During the standoff, a member of the detectives’ posse tossed an incendiary device through Samuel’s window, blowing part of her arm off and killing the James brothers’ 8-year-old half brother. The botched raid turned public opinion against the Pinkertons. After seeing his detectives denounced as murderers in the papers, Allan Pinkerton reluctantly called off his war against the James gang. Jesse would go on to elude the authorities for another seven years before being killed by an assassin’s bullet in 1882.

Along with their exploits in the Wild West, the Pinkertons also had a more sinister reputation as the paramilitary wing of big business. Industrialists used them to spy on unions or act as guards and strikebreakers, and detectives clashed with workers on several occasions. During an 1892 strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, the Carnegie Steel Company paid some 300 Pinkertons to act as security at its mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania. After arriving at the plant on river barges, the agents squared off with thousands of striking workers in an all-day battle waged with guns, bricks, and even dynamite.

By the time the outnumbered Pinkertons finally surrendered, at least a dozen people were dead and several more wounded. The fallout from the melee crippled the steel union, but many also branded the Pinkertons as “hired thugs,” leading several states to pass laws banning the use of outside guards in labor disputes.

After Allan Pinkerton died in 1884, control of his agency fell to his two sons, Robert and William. The company continued to grow under their watch, and by the 1890s, it boasted 2,000 detectives and 30,000 reserves—more men than the standing army of the United States. Fearful that the agency could be hired as a private mercenary army, the state of Ohio later outlawed the Pinkertons altogether. By the early 20th century, the Pinkertons’ crime-fighting duties had largely been absorbed by local police forces and agencies like the FBI. The company lived on as private security firm and guard service, however, and still operates today under the shortened name “Pinkerton.”


Maryland and South Carolina were the first states to build railroads in the early 1830’s. By 1835, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois were part of the 11 states with over 200 railroads and approximately 1000 miles of main line track. The railroads had over 9000 miles of main line by 1850, all in the eastern states. In 1851 the railroads crossed the Mississippi and began their expansion westward. By 1860 there were over 30,000 miles of railroad establishing boomtowns, settlers, and adventure seekers in their path.

With the creation of these railroad towns, crime tended to follow. There were no railroad police at that time, and usually no other forms of law enforcement. Vigilante groups were usually organized haphazardly to maintain law and order. These groups were not very productive causing the railroads to fall prey to criminals looking to steal luggage, freight, and livestock from the trains.

Chief Engineer Benjamin Latrobe of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad established one of the earliest known railroad police forces in 1849. With the assistance of Sheriff J. F. Martin of Acting Preston County (now West Virginia), they arrested the leaders of strikers who were assaulting other workers. This gave Latrobe the idea of creating his own railroad police force, one hired and paid entirely by the railroad. It was decided that these men would be deputized by Preston County so that all of their official acts would be covered under the shield of law.

Latrobe’s force would be made up of twelve men responsible for keeping workers in line while the railroads continued their expansion. Each man would be paid $1.25 a day with the instructions to “arrest persons engaged in riotous acts, dead or alive.”

Later that year, Latrobe’s police force led by John Watson saw their first real action at the Kingwood Tunnel construction site. They met over 200 rioting strikers who had shot at workers in the twin coal mine shafts. Watson and his men opened fire and charged the strikers, driving them away. Other teams of Watson’s men saw action against violent strikers in Cumberland, Maryland and Wheeling, West Virginia.

By 1853 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had a police force that numbered around 60 strong. Many of these men moved to western railroads as their jobs ended with the completion of construction of the railroad in this area. Some traveled to western states where their services were needed.

Most railroads prior to the Civil War still did not have their own police force or one experienced with undercover work and investigations. As losses mounted, railroads had a need to protect themselves against well-organized criminals. Contractors were hired to investigate the losses to freight and luggage that were mounting into the millions of dollars. One of these contractors and probably the most famous one was Allen Pinkerton. He used his men and women in many ways to solve thefts from the railroads. He placed them in undercover capacity as passengers watching for employees who were stealing and as conductors and other employees watching for those stealing from passengers or tramps. One such undercover agent used by Pinkerton was James McParland who worked as a conductor watching for pickpockets and thieves. He was later successfully used against the “Molly Maguires” who were burning bridges, destroying rail cars, and committing other railroad related crimes.

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of a police officer. He migrated to the United States in 1842 after working as a barrel maker for some years. While working in Illinois as a woodchopper, he assisted the local police department with apprehending a gang of counterfeiters. His thirst for law enforcement had begun and soon after was employed by the Kane County, Illinois Sheriff’s Office. Pinkerton later went to work for the Chicago Police Department becoming their very first Detective.

Only two years after making Detective, he quit the Chicago Police Department to sign a contract with the Rock Island, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroads (the latter to be incorporated into the Chicago & North Western Railroad), and the Illinois Central Railroads. This contract called for his company to exclusively work on railroad related crimes. He established his railroad investigative business under the name of the North Western Police Detective Agency later renamed Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. This agency was the first of its kind with their agents having the power to arrest criminals anywhere in the country.

Pinkerton knew what type of people it took to be successful as an investigator and undercover agent. He hired former police officers and trained them in the art of detection. His agency specialized in protecting shipments of gold, tobacco, silk, and passengers. One of his first important investigations occurred in 1854 on a theft from a train between Montgomery, Alabama and Augusta, Georgia. Pinkerton received a letter from Edward S. Sanford, the vice president of Adams Express Company, relative to the loss of $10,000 from a locked money pouch. Based on the information that Pinkerton had received in this letter, he believed that the thief was Nathan Maroney, the manager of the company’s office in Montgomery, Alabama. Pinkerton advised Sanford to keep Maroney under surveillance before he struck again.

Sanford did not reply and did not heed Pinkerton’s warning. This led to Maroney again stealing money from the Adams Express Company before Pinkerton was hired to solve the case. The successful conclusion of this case was the turning point for Pinkerton’s career. It led to work in different areas and allowed him to use newly developed investigative techniques to solve many other large crimes.

As the Civil War came to an end, the railroads were used to lead the fast-paced economic growth throughout the country. They turned small towns into business hubs, some workers into wealthy entrepreneurs, and others into bandits. As the railroads continued to grow westward the American Outlaw began to rob and steal from passengers, freight cars, and express cars. In their daring robberies, these American Outlaws were well manned and well armed. They overpowered crews, dynamited bridges, tunnels, stations, tracks, and rail cars making away with thousands of dollars, jewelry and other freight. One of the most successful and easiest ways to stop a train, however, was simply to wave a red lantern in front of the train flagging it to a stop. During many of these robberies, there were shootouts where passengers and employees of the railroads were killed. This began the era of the outlaw, Jesse and Frank James, the Youngers, Reno and Dalton Brothers, Sam Bass, Belle Star, and others.

On October 6, 1866, the first known train robbery took place. Three masked bandits boarded an Ohio & Mississippi train after it departed Seymour, Indiana. John and Simeon Reno and Franklin Sparks knocked the guard unconscious before pushing two safes containing a total $45,000 out of the moving train and making their escape.

Allan Pinkerton was immediately called to investigate this robbery. His knowledge of the territory was instrumental in solving this case. He knew that nothing happened around Seymour without the knowledge or approval of the Reno Brothers. Pinkerton immediately used undercover agents on this case. Dick Winscott, one of Pinkerton’s best agents, was working as a bartender where the Reno brothers did their drinking and gambling. One evening when John Reno and Sparks were drinking, Winscott talked them into getting their picture taken by a photographer who had just happened to walk into the bar. They agreed to this by having the photographer, one of Pinkerton’s other agents, take their picture. This picture was then sent immediately to Pinkerton’s office and was used to successfully identify them as the robbers of the train.

Other bandits began to imitate this crime but this would be the last time that Allan Pinkerton would ride after outlaws. His two sons, William and Robert, would take his place and would be ones to chase the James-Younger gangs, the most famous outlaws in the nineteenth century in America.

During outlaw era of the 1860’s, the railroads realized the need for their own police departments. It was usually the division superintendents or the operating managers who did the hiring and firing of the police department. These were not the times for timid men railroad police were big, strong and aggressive men who could defend themselves. Many railroad agents would engage in gun battles with the outlaws with some losing their life trying to protect railroad employees, passengers and goods.

The railroads also realized that they needed to protect the employees and freight in the rail yards from the less sophisticated thief. To combat this problem, they began to hire the watchman these were at times employees from other crafts who were unsuitable for the jobs that they held. There was no training for these men. They were handed a gun, badge and a club and told to go out and protect the railroad property and employees. The railroad watchman was not of the quality of men and women that Allan Pinkerton hired for railroad investigation. As railroads police agencies were in their infant stages, they still called on Allan Pinkerton and his sons to handle many of their investigations. Two of Pinkerton’s undercover agents used to chase members of the James Gang, the Younger Brothers, and the Wild Bunch, were Charles Siringo and James McParland. The Pinkerton’s and other railroad police were somewhat successful in catching many of the gang members and chasing others out of the country. However, Pinkerton agents John Whicher, Louis Lull, and John Boyle, would die in shoot-outs with these groups

The James-Younger gang is credited with committing seven train robberies in their time. The gang usually averaged about 12 men with Frank James, Jesse James, and Cole Younger being their leaders. History has it that at least 41 men rode with the gang during their notorious days. They are credited with the following train robberies:

-July 21, 1873, Adair, Iowa, Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, $6000

-January 31, 1874, Gad’s Hill, Mo., Iron Mountain Railroad, $12,000

-December 8, 1874, Muncie, Ks., Kansas Pacific Railroad, $55,000

-July 7, 1876, Rockey Cut, Mo, Missouri Pacific Railroad, $15,000

-October 8, 1879, Glendale, Mo., Chicago and Alton Railroad, $40,000

-July 15, 1881, Winston, Mo., Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, $2,000

-September 7, 1881, Glendale, Mo., Chicago and Alton Railroad, $15,000

The James-Younger Gang is credited with killing the following Pinkerton men and railroad trainmen:

-Edwin/Edward Daniels, a Pinkerton Agent, who was shot and killed trying to apprehend the Youngers.

-Captain Louis J. Lull, A Pinkerton Agent from Chicago, who was shot and killed trying to apprehend the Youngers.

-Jack Ladd, believed to be a Pinkerton Spy, commonly believed to be a revenge killing for the January Pinkerton bombing on the James farm.

-John Rafferty, an engineer at the Adair robbery, who was crushed as the engine overturned.

-William Westfall, conductor on a train at Winston, Mo., reportedly the conductor who brought the Pinkertons to the James farm on January 25, 2875.

-John W. Whicher, a Pinkerton Detective killed in 1874.

As the railroads continued their westward movement, they preceded many territories decades before they became states. They entered no ones law enforcement jurisdictional responsibility. Often the railroad secret services (railroad police) were the only law enforcement in the region to defend the railroads against outlaws, Indians, and other criminal element that preyed on the railroads. The Union Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and the St. Louis and San Francisco railroads all had railroad special agents working in the plains territories and far west by the 1870’s.

It is during this period that two titles for the railroad police were established. The title, “Detective” was commonly used for railroad police in the east and the title “Special Agent” was used for railroad police in the west. These terms are still used today in modern railroad policing. Eastern railroads used mostly uniformed officers to prevent crime and disorder. Their rank structure was similar to that of municipal police departments. Western railroads were more likely to work with Sheriff’s and U.S. Marshall’s, so they developed organizations that rarely relied on uniform patrol. Their work was more likely to be investigative type of work and primarily used plainclothes police.

This period brought about two well-known railroad policeman, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Masterson was the Sheriff of Dodge City in 1878 when a feud between the Denver Rio Grande Railroad and the Santa Fe Railroad ensued. William Barstow Strong, who was the Vice President and General Manager of the Santa Fe Railroad hired 100 well armed men to protect his railroad however, needed a leader for this group. He hired Bat Masterson for this duty. Masterson stayed on until the conflict was settled in court and is considered the first Chief of Police for the Santa Fe Railroad.

Masterson and Earp along with others were hired for special assignments much like local police officers are hired today for special events.

Between 1896 and 1901, the Wild Bunch is credited with robbing four trains, one being known as the “Great Train Robbery”. On June 2, 1899, the Wild Bunch flagged down a Union Pacific Limited train near Wilcox, Wyoming and used dynamite to blast the doors open to the express car. They made off with $30,000 however, most of the money was also blasted by the dynamite and were floating in the wind. Their next robbery, in Tipton, Wyoming, was also a Union Pacific train. Their last was in Malta Montana where they robbed a Great Northern train escaping with $45,000.

These were not the only gangs to rob from the trains. The Union Pacific encountered such bandits as “Gentlemen” Bill Carlisle, the Jones Brothers, Charlie Manning, and George “Big Nose” Parrott. The Missouri Pacific fell prey to such treacherous villains as Sam Bass, Bill Doolin, and Rube Burrow.

Further south, the Missouri Kansas and Texas (KATY) line was robbed by the likes of Nathaniel “Texas Jack” Reed, Al Spencer, Thomas Turlington, and the Starr Gang. The Dalton Gang, however, proved to be the most troublesome for KATY Superintendent J.J. Frey.

After hearing that the Dalton Gang planned to rob a KATY train on July 14, 1892 at Pryor, Oklahoma, Captain Jack Kinney, Chief of Detectives for the KATY Railroad, Charles La Flore, Chief of the Indian Police, along with other heavily armed guards were placed on the train at Muskogee, OK. The Katy Flyer arrived in Pryor but no Daltons showed up. The train continued to Adair with the law enforcement officers laughing and joking about what would have happed in Pryor if the Dalton’s had come. Shortly after arriving in Adair, gunfire erupted wounding Captain Jack and Chief LaFlore along with several others. The Dalton gang made a clean getaway with $27,000 from the express car.

Captain Jack later became Chief of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (KATY) Railroad and the first President of the International Chief’s of Police in 1896.

Another Railroad Special Agent to chase the outlaws was Union Pacific Chief Special Agent Bill Canada. He was appointed Chief of the Secret Services on June 1, 1891 by Union Pacific President E.H. Harriman and responsible for overseeing the police operations for all roads composing the Union Pacific. Canada under the direction of General Manager E. Dickinson organized the Union Pacific Bandit Hunters to stop the holdups of the trains that included murders of employees, passengers, and law enforcement officers.

Chief Canada recruited only the best horsemen and shooters. They were armed with the newest weapons and fastest horses. The Bandit Hunters were stationed out of the Cheyenne Headquarters but were usually found on a train that consisted of a sleeping car, a dining car, and a specially constructed baggage car to house their horses. This team had a telegrapher assigned to them and an engine ready to take them at top speed to the site of any train robbery. Canada’s team would track the bandits sometimes over hundreds of miles. His team was very successful and Canada was on the scene of many of these arrests with some ending in shootouts. When Canada retired in 1914, only two of the outlaws were still alive. One of them, Ben Kilpatrick, spent 10 years in Leavenworth penitentiary after recovering from a dozen bullet wounds received during a shootout with the Bandit Hunters.

Kilpatrick joined Harvey Logan (alias Kid Curry) in South America after his release from jail. Curry was wanted for robbing a Union Pacific train and killing two deputies. These men were heard to say that when Bill Canada retired, they would come home.

The Missouri Pacific Railroad used Furlong’s Secret Police to develop operatives similar to those of Allan Pinkerton. Chief Special Agent Thomas Furlong oversaw these men. The efforts of Furlong’s Secret Police, Canada’s Bandit Hunters and Pinkerton National Detective Agency ended the era of the train robbers the outlaws were killed, in jail, or retired from their criminal careers.

For example, Butch and Sundance were tired of being chased by the Bandit Hunters so they robbed a Great Northern train for travel money and high-tailed it to South America.

The James-Younger and Dalton Gangs were not so fortunate. The three Younger brothers spent time in the Minnesota State Penitentiary following their historic attempted robbery of the Northfield Bank. Jesse James was assassinated and Frank James surrendered to Governor Crittenden, was later tried and acquitted of all charges.

On the way home from the Adair robbery, the Daltons stopped in Coffeyville for a little extra money. They robbed the Coffeyville Bank, however, died in a hail of gunfire as they tried to make their escape.

During the period of the outlaw, many lives were lost between the outlaws, railroads, and passengers. Community people respected some of these men and others were looked down upon as cold-blooded murders. But when each of them died, their legends lived on.

Pinkerton and his operatives were responsible for catching or killing many of these outlaws. By the time that he died in 1884, he had established the finest Detective Agency in the world. J. Edgar Hoover thought so much of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency that he emulated it and started the FBI. Some of Pinkerton’s ideas used by Hoover were: Centralized Criminal Records and his collection of criminal photographs later known as mug shots.

The railroads learned much from Pinkerton. Investigative techniques and undercover operatives being two of the most widely used to apprehend criminals and solve cases. Even in these early days of railroad policing, men were able to make careers for themselves and their families. They had to overcome many obstacles no training, no authority off of railroad property unless appointed deputy sheriff, and their salaries were very low.

These men were able to overcome these obstacles and became the pioneers of our profession. They worked long hours without much backup during some rough times in our history. They protected the railroads, employees, and passengers by investigating crimes and handling bad situations alone. These men became the beginning of our history as railroad police officers.

Several railroad special agents who add to the history of the railroad police are A&P Railroad Deputies Carl Holton and Fred Fernofff and Northern Pacific Railroad Deputy TM Brown.

In March of 1889, outlaws in the Diablo Canyon, Arizona robbed the Atlantic and Pacific #2 train. Railroad Deputies Carl Holton and Fred Fernoff joined the Sheriff O’Neils posse that later engaged the outlaws in a gunfight at Wah Weep Canyon in Utah. During this battle, the Sheriff became pinned under his horse making him an easy target for the outlaws. Railroad Deputy Holton risked his own life to run to O’Neil and pull him to safety.

In October 1902, Under Sheriff R.J. Dee along with Northern Pacific Railroad Deputy T.M. Brown joined forces to search for robbers who held up a North Coast Limited train and killed the engineer. Deputies from Granite County, Montana and investigator Joel S. Hindman with Northern Pacific Railroad joined the posse. The outlaws were not found and the case remained unsolved.

Railroad Investigator Hindman was not one to let a case like this go unresolved. He worked hard as an investigator and worked even harder at developing his relationships with other law enforcement agencies. In June of this same year, this work paid off. Hindmann, Spokane County Sheriff William Doust and two Spokane County Detectives raided a hotel room and made the arrest on the outlaws who had robbed the North Coast Limited train. This arrest led to the conviction of the outlaws and established Hindman’s reputation as a professional Railroad Police investigator.

In 1861, the State of Nevada enacted legislation recognizing Railroad Police, however, that credit is usually given to the state of Pennsylvania that enacted the Railroad Police Act of 1865. This Act recognized the railroad police and authorized the Governor of the State to grant police power to any individual for whom the employing railroad petitioned. Because of the uniqueness and importance as apparently the first provision of this particular nature, the Act is quoted in full:

Appointment of railroad police- Any corporation owning, or using a railroad, in this state, may apply to the governor to commission such persons as the said corporation may designate, to act as policemen for said corporation.

Commission to be issued by the governor- the governor, upon such application, may appoint such persons, or so many of them as he may deem proper, to be such policemen, and shall issue to such person or persons, so appointed, a commission to act as such policemen.

Powers of police- Every policeman so appointed, shall, before entering upon the duties of his office, take and subscribe the oath required by the seventh article of the constitution, before the recorder of any county through which the railroad, for which such policeman is appointed, shall be located which oath, after being duly recorded by such recorder, shall be filed in the office of the secretary of state, and a certified copy of such oath, made by the recorder of the proper county, shall be recorded, with the commission, in every county through or into which the railroad for which such policeman is appointed may run, and in which it is intended the said policeman shall act and such policem[e]n, so appointed, shall severely possess and exercise all the powers of policem[e]n of the city of Philadelphia, in the several counties in which they shall be so authorized to act as aforesaid and the keepers of jails, or lockups, or station houses, in any of said counties are required to receive all person arrested by such policemen, for the commission of any offense against the laws of this commonwealth, upon or along said railroads, or the premises of any such corporation, to be dealt with according to law.

Shield to be worn- Such railroad police shall, when on duty, severally wear a metallic shield, with the words, “railway police,” and the name of the corporation for which appointed, inscribed thereon, and said shield shall always be worn in plain view, except when employed as detectives.

Compensation- The compensation of such police shall be paid by the companies, for which the policemen are respectively appointed, as may be agreed upon between them.

Modes of dispensing with services of police-Whenever any corporation shall no longer require the services of any policeman, so appointed, as aforesaid, they may file a notice to that effect, under their corporate seal, attested by their secretary, in the several offices where the commission of such policeman has been recorded, which shall be noted by the several recorders upon the margin of the record, where such commission is recorded, and thereupon, the power of such policeman shall cease and be determined.

This was the first such step at officially recognizing the railroad police as a police organization and one that needs the powers of arrest to protect the railroads against criminals. During the many years that followed this document was used as an example for many states, counties and municipalities to empower its’ railroad police.

As many railroads had their own railroad police agencies, many still had none. In some instances, railroad trainmen were called upon to protect their own trains. These trainmen, who usually had no authority, fought tramps and vagrants who rode their trains, stole from the freight cars, and from passengers. Some trainmen occasionally conducted their own investigations and some used surveillance to detect the criminal.

In 1875, hogs were being stolen from the Chicago and North Western Railroad as they were being shipped to stockyards in Chicago from Clinton, Iowa. A conscientious brakeman on the Galena Division decided that he needed to do something to stop the thefts. He met with his General Manager and asked for the authority to try to catch the hog thieves. The GM told the brakeman that he was now a “Policeman” and had his permission to try to solve this crime. The brakeman built a small cage inside of one of the hog cars and hid himself in the cage and among the hogs. He stayed in this car while the train stopped for water and coal outside of Sterling, Illinois. During this stop the doors to the hog car opened and the thieves began to drive the hogs out. The brakeman jumped from the cage, surprising and capturing those responsible for the thefts.

On May 19, 1913, a newer version of the Pennsylvania statute was passed it read, “It shall be the duty of any conductor, in charge of any passenger train on a steam service railroad, to arrest on view any person so conducting himself in a disorderly manner in such train, and to deliver such person into the custody of any constable or any police officer in the county, who shall forthwith deliver such person to the keeper of the proper jail or prison or lockup to await a hearing, as aforesaid.”

Because there was still few railroad police and many of the routes that the railroads transverse had no law enforcement, this act gave the conductor of the trains temporary police powers to protect passengers, employees, and railroad freight

The Mid Twentieth Century

In the early and mid 1940’s, during and immediately following World War II – the hey day of railroading in North America, there were approximately 9,000 railroad police officers in the U.S. and Canada. These agents represented as many as 400 individual railroads with about 225,000 miles of mainline track. Property protection had always been a focus of railroad police, and during the war, these agencies helped protect government shipments that were headed overseas.

By the mid-1940’s passenger rail was the main mode of transit across the United States and ridership numbered in the millions annually. During this time the railroad police officer not only had to worry about cargo, but also for the safety of passengers, both on and off the train. Railroad police officers were often stationed in busy railroad depots where they kept an eye out for pickpockets, muggers, and other criminals that would prey off the unsuspecting railroad.

As our society has changed, so have the nations railroads, and so has railroad police service. Railroad policing has developed into a unique, highly specialized branch of policing.

With the development of the interstate highway system in the 1950’s, rail passenger ridership diminished. Federal regulations of the American railroads in 1980, and the resulting mergers and acquisitions resulted in fewer and larger companies, a trend that continues today.

Corporate streamlining has resulted in more efficient rail operations, which has led to the downsizing of the employee population of railway companies, thus reducing the number of railroad police.

Technology and engineering has also been a powerful contributor to the downsizing of the nation’s rail police force. For example, smaller more powerful locomotives pull trains over tracks of continuous welded rail: trains make few stops and travel at higher speeds. Since trains stop less frequently and for a shorter amount of time, the opportunity to burglarize railcars has been greatly diminished.

High value freight is fully enclosed in specially designed railcars: Rail Police use modern technology to better secure and protect freight in transit. As a result, today there are fewer than 2300 railway police officers in North America of which only approximately 1000 of them are in the US.

There are two types of railroad special agents those working for freight lines and those working passenger terminals such as AMTRAK and other commuter lines. Both of which have the same goals of passenger, cargo, and resource protection. Depending on the rail carrier, the special agent must be flexible enough to work both environments.

Since the late 1800’s, the role of the railroad police has been to protect the railroad’s resources, passengers, and cargo from vandalism, theft, and robbery. Today, the role of the railroad police officer has not changed much.

Since WWII railroad police numbers have drastically shrunk from 9000 in North America just after the war to somewhere around 1200 in the United States today. The great majority of these men and women work for five railroads: Amtrak, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Union Pacific.

In virtually every state, railroad police go through the same training and standards as any other police, sheriff’s deputy, or state police officer. Although paid by the railroad companies themselves, railroad police officers have the authority to conduct investigations and make arrest for crimes committed against the railroad. Some agencies, such as AMTRAK police also attend the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy as part of their training.

Although hiring standards vary from railroad to railroad, most railroad police officers must already be certified in the state in which they are employed to work, pass a physical fitness standard, and have a college degree or a minimal amount of college hours. Once employed by the railroad, the officers will usually undergo several weeks of training above and beyond what they have already learned through a police academy.

The duties of today’s railroad police officer often involves routine uniform or plain clothes patrol of rail yards, depots, and railroad property either by foot or car, conducting complex investigations involving cargo theft, vandalism, theft of equipment, arson, train/vehicle collisions, and even investigate assault and murders that may spill over onto railroad property. Due to such a wide variety of cases that a railroad police officer may have to handle, being flexible and having knowledge of some of the most advanced law enforcement techniques is essential.

During patrols, officers are usually looking for persons trespassing on railroad property. Although some trespassers are looking for a chance to commit a crime, for the most part, these trespassers are pedestrians taking shortcuts along the tracks or across the rail yard, not realizing how dangerous the railroad tracks and yards can be.

To help reduce these incidents, railroad police often go to schools and civic organizations to take a proactive approach to reducing trespasser incidents by educating citizens about the dangers of trespassing.

Unfortunately, the other classifications of trespassers are sneaking into rail yards with the intention to steal merchandise, or hop a freight train to get out of town after committing a crime. While most are petty thieves, some are organized criminals that steal high value merchandise from trains, sometimes using very sophisticated methods to commit their crimes, such as counter surveillance against railroad police, portable radios and cell phones to communicate, and rental or stolen vehicles to load the stolen merchandise.

When such a complex criminal operation occurs, railroad police agencies often utilize the latest surveillance technology and investigative techniques to catch the criminals. Special burglary teams use night vision scopes, thermal imagers devices, K-9 teams, and other equipment that affords them the best opportunity to resolve the problem.

Like other sizable law enforcement agencies, the railroad police also utilize special units to handle a variety of emergency situations. This includes the formation S.W.A.T. teams, Special Operations Response Teams, anti-terrorism units, executive protection officers, hazardous materials agents, and even officers trained in medical and firefighting techniques.

As you can see the modern day railroad police officer/special agent is more than just the hired gun from a hundred years ago. Their experience, training, and tactics make the modern day railroad police some of the most capable law enforcement officers in the country.

Railroad Police Authority

In Canada, federal and provincial law regulates railroad police. In the United States, the appointment, commissioning and regulations of the rail police is primarily a state mandate, however Federal Law allows Railroad Police Officers to enforce the laws of other states as found under the following provision:

Section 1704 of the Crime Control Act of 1990, effective March 14, 1994, provides that:

“A railroad police officer who is certified or commissioned as a police officer under the laws of any state shall, in accordance with the regulations issued by the Secretary of Transportation, be authorized to enforce the laws of any jurisdiction in which the rail carrier owns property.”

TITLE 49 Code of Federal Regulations CH.207.5:

(a) A railroad police officer who is designated by a railroad and commissioned under the laws of any state is authorized to enforce the laws (as specified in paragraph (b) of this section)

(b) Under the authority of paragraph (a) of this section, a railroad police officer may enforce only relevant laws for the protection of-

(1) The railroad’s employees, passengers, or patrons

(2) The railroad’s property or property entrusted to the railroad for transportation purposes

(3) The intrastate, interstate, or foreign movement of cargo in the railroad’s possession or in possession of another railroad or non-rail carrier when on the railroad property and

(4) The railroad movement of personnel, equipment, and materials vital to the national defense.

(c) The authority exercised under this part by an officer for whom the railroad has provided notice in accordance with Sec. 207.4 shall be the same as that of a railroad police officer commissioned under the laws of that state.

(d) The railroad police officer’s law enforcement powers shall apply only on railroad property, except that an officer may pursue off railroad property a person suspected of violating the law on railroad property, and an officer may engage off railroad property in law enforcement activities, including without limitation, investigations and arrest, if permissible under state law.


From the book, The Illustrated Directory of the United States Marine Corps

The president had barely settled into his easy chair at the White House when the nation became engulfed in a crime wave capped by armed robberies of the U.S. Mail. Edwin Denby, the only former Marine ever to become Secretary of the Navy called upon 53 officers and 2200 enlisted men of the Marine Corps to keep watch on post offices, railway mail cars, and postal trucks across the country.

After the Marines reached their designated posts, mail robberies came to an abrupt halt. During the four months the Marines stood watch, not a single piece of mail was stolen. Five years later, when mail theft resumed, the Marines returned and put a sudden stop to the robberies.

“You must be brave, as you always are. You must be constantly alert. You must, when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. There is no compromise in this battle with the bandits.” To The Men of the Mail Guard, Edwin Denby, 11 November 1921.

Annual Reports of the Navy Department: Report of the Secretary of the Navy
by United States. Navy Dept
Page 51 – At this writing there are 82 officers and 2083 enlisted men of the Marine Corps
on mail-guard duty. Brig. Gen. Logan Feland, United States Marine Corps, …

Marines as Mail Guards: A Story Of the Roaring ’20s
By: Bob Campbell

The history of the United States Marines is nothing if not colorful. From the Mexican War to the Battle of France to the Chosin Reservoir, Marines have earned respect as fighting men. At times the mere presence of Marines has been enough to bring the peace.

One of the more interesting but less well known actions Marines participated in happened in America at a time when there was no FBI and prior to the firm establishment of armed postal inspectors. During the Roaring ’20s violent crime was commonplace. Among the institutions hardest hit was the post office. According to the Postmaster General, from April 9, 1920 to April 9, 1921 there were 36 major mail robberies that netted armed perpetrators no less than $6,300,000.

The first response was to arm all outside postal employees. A common arm used in this detail was the Smith and Wesson Model 1917 .45-caliber revolver. These handguns were readily available as surplus from the recent Great War. Guns and ammunition were transferred from the War Department to the post office. The 1917 revolver, a substitute standard handgun of the U.S. Army, was used not only by the U.S. Postal Service but by the United States Border Patrol. In some cases it was issued directly to bank tellers.

Despite the arming of post office employees, $300,000 dollars was stolen from April to October 1921, during which postal employees and a few robbers were slain. The Postmaster General appealed to the president. A special request was delivered to the Secretary of the Navy. Almost immediately, Marines were detailed to the post office to guard trains, trucks, main buildings and isolated transfer stations.

The Marine action was no token show. Nor was it a small scale operation. The Marines were serious, heavily armed, and in a high state of readiness. The original contingent consisted of 53 officers and 2,200 enlisted men dispatched throughout the country. Post office robberies stopped immediately. No one wished to face armed, ready Marines. The first Marine guard action ended in March 1922.

The nation was divided for this purpose into two zones, eastern and western. Dividing lines were clearly marked. Williston, N.D., Green River, Wyo., Denver, Colo., El Paso, Texas and Albuquerque, N.M., were cities considered borders of the Western Mail Guard. Eastern units came from the Expeditionary Force. This crack unit was stationed at Quantico, but two companies were seconded for the mail assignment from Parris Island. Brigadier General Logan Feland commanded the Eastern Zone, which was divided into three areas. The First Regiment covered New York, the Tenth Regiment, Chicago, and the Southern Area was headquartered in Atlanta.

Experience gained in this exercise served veteran Marines well in 1926, when events again called for serious action when a mailtruck driver was brutally murdered in Elizabeth, N.J. President Calvin Coolidge issued an executive order calling for Marines to once again ride the rails and protect the post office. General Smedley Butler, a respected combat Marine, Congressional Medal of Honor holder, and veteran of World War I and various South American guerrilla wars, commanded the Western Mail Guards. Primarily he utilized the 4th Marines, which he spread through 11 states and part of Texas. These Marines soon became familiar sights on mail trucks and trains in the West. Obviously, they were a sobering influence on the criminal element. During the tenure of the Marines as mail guards only one robbery attempt was made — on an empty, unguarded train!

The presence of high-profile Marine guards allowed the post office to operate normally. By January 1927, Marines began to return to their home bases. While the mail guards were welcomed by the population, they had seen no action. By Feb. 18, 1927 all Marines were off guard duty. Many were soon on the way to protect American interests in China and Nicaragua.

In the years between Marine guard actions, the post office hired civilian guards, but no guards were ever as effective at dissuading robbers as the Marines. In comparison to most police agencies the Marines were exceptionally well trained. (Police agencies of the day expected peace officers to come to the job trained!) Just as important, there were no federal police agencies in those days. No one had authority to pursue felons outside of a limited jurisdiction. The Marines were another matter. Most police agencies used the .38 revolver and perhaps a shotgun. My research shows the Marines wisely relied mainly upon two of the finest short-range weapons of all time. The main weapon was the 12-gauge shotgun. These guns were short-barrel Winchester 97s, the estimable “trench guns” of World War I fame, proven in Europe and South America. The other weapon relied upon was the Colt Government Model .45 automatic, a weapon that needs little introduction. This pistol had been widely used in Mexico and Europe with excellent effect. No other pistol combined such excellent stopping power, complete reliability and excellent hit probability in trained hands.

General Logan Feland issued a circular letter on Dec. 13, 1921 that carried instructions for conduct by all Marines on guard duty. The instructions were detailed, including guidelines for passing through Canada. The official title of the detachment was, “US Marines Corps Guard Company, Washington, DC.”

Tactical instructions were explicit. Railroad flares were kept for emergency signaling if the train were attacked. If attacked, all interior lights were to be put out, by gunfire if necessary. Shotguns were to be carried with a full magazine and chamber empty. The Colt .45 was to be carried properly, cocked and locked (hammer back, safety on) with a loaded chamber. The commandant ordered that the military flap holster would be worn with the flap folded back so as not to interfere with a rapid draw from the holster. If not carrying other arms, it was recommended guards keep their hand on the Colt .45 at all times.

The Marines have a long history worthy of praise. This small episode was simply business as usual for them, but it is worth a little attention. Without a shot fired, Marines brought the peace. If we need the Marines again, they are always ready!

Copyright Bob Campbell
Military Trader, December 2001 Issue
Reprinted by Permission

Submitted to our website by Matt C. Nation

His grandfather, James Oliver Nation, was one of the marines assigned to this duty.

Documents Establishing the United States Railroad Police (Cir. 1918).
Submitted by Chip Greiner

The Pinkertons Have a Long, Dark History of Targeting Workers

Labor history is rife with colorful villains. Gilded Age robber barons, craven aristocrats, murderous bosses, and traitorous scabs have long populated workers’ nightmares, but few enemies of the working class have loomed larger than the Pinkertons. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was founded as a private police force in Chicago in 1850, and quickly expanded its reach its detectives initially focused on catching thieves and burglars, but soon became the bane of the labor movement for their work as enthusiastic, vicious strikebreakers. Throughout the Civil War era and in the decades after, Pinkerton operatives left their bloody mark on strikes, protests, and massacres, and gained a ruthless reputation for protecting the interests of capital by any means necessary. As one newspaper columnist put it, “No man of refined sensibilities would enter the ranks as a hired Hessian of plutocracy, expecting to shoot down his brothers at the command of capital.”

The list of Pinkerton injustices against the working class spans centuries, and as a new report from Motherboard appears to show, the agency is keeping up with the times. The Pinkertons, who are now a subsidiary of Swedish security company Securitas AB, are reportedly cozying up to 2020’s version of the Gilded Age robber baron: Silicon Valley tech bosses like billionaire vampire Jeff Bezos, who has hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to reportedly surveil workers in at least one of Amazon’s European warehouses and infiltrate its worksite, according to documents obtained by the publication. There is a dreadful sort of irony to the idea that today’s innovation-obsessed captains of industry really are taking a page from their Gilded Age forebears by hiring the Pinkertons, and that a plutocrat is still a plutocrat whether he’s wearing a top hat or garish swim trunks. As for the Pinkertons themselves, these former union-busting mercenaries of old are not only alive and well, they appear to have been repurposed into a nightmarish data-driven geek squad. (An Amazon spokesperson acknowledged that the company hired the Pinkertons, but told Motherboard that those workers were used “to secure high-value shipments in transit.” “We do not use our partners to gather intelligence on warehouse workers,” the spokesperson said. “All activities we undertake are fully in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities.")

In Inventing the Pinkertons Or, Spies, Sleuths, Mercenaries, and Thugs Being a Story of the Nation’s Most Famous (and Infamous) Detective Agency, S. Paul O’Hara wrote, “the agency was simultaneously a tool for capital, a myth in American folklore, and a manifestation of state power.” Anarchist writer and labor organizer Lucy Parsons put it more bluntly, writing in 1886, “There is a set of men nay, beasts for you! Pinkerton detectives! They would do anything.” That same year, a bomb was thrown into a crowd of workers gathered in Chicago’s Haymarket Square (and the policemen and Pinkertons surrounding them), and seven anarchists were arrested despite zero evidence linking them to the specific crime. A Pinkerton detective testified at the sham trial that sent Parson’s husband, Albert, and three other anarchists to the gallows, alleging a vast conspiracy.

Seven years later, the Illinois governor pardoned the three living Haymarket anarchists after identifying the police and Pinkertons as unreliable narrators. Shortly before that pardon, the Pinkertons had also taken part in one of the 19th century’s bloodiest labor conflicts, the 1892 Homestead Strike. Steelworkers at robber baron Andrew Carnegie’s steel mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania, refused to ratify a new union contract that cut their wages, so Carnegie’s agent, the rabidly anti-union Henry Frick, fired all 3,800 of them, and brought in 300 Pinkertons to occupy the property. The workers and Pinkerton detectives fought in a 12-hour gun battle. After three of their own and at least seven workers were killed, the Pinkertons surrendered, but the strike ultimately collapsed.

In recent times, the Pinkertons have tried to leave behind their thuggish image and pivoted toward more white-collar efforts, like “corporate investigations” and “comprehensive risk management,” though their operatives were called in to handle security during a strike in West Virginia in 2018. On its website, the company touts a “proprietary and analytical approach” to corporate surveillance by using “big data and machine learning technology to identify, manage, and mitigate business risk for clients.” In 1936, the U.S. Senate’s La Follette Civil Liberties Committee launched a yearslong investigation into widespread anti-labor practices like industrial espionage and strikebreaking by detective agencies, including the Pinkertons. The following year, Robert Pinkerton II, a great-grandson of the founder, purportedly ended the agency’s anti-union work.

The agency is clearly proud of its history, and to be sure, it has notched a few legitimately impressive wins over the centuries, like spying for the Union during the Civil War, providing support to militant abolitionist John Brown, and foiling an assassination plot against President Abraham Lincoln but these outstanding events pale in comparison to the great harm the Pinkertons have wrought. Their motto, which floats menacingly beneath an all-seeing eye logo, is “We never sleep.” And the sanitized timeline available on their website is an exercise in deception by omission: For example, the 1855 entry mentions how they specialize in “protecting railroad shipments for several Midwestern railways,” but conveniently skips past the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, when Pinkertons worked as infiltrators in a monthslong open conflict that left over 100 people dead. (Teen Vogue has reached out to the Pinkertons for comment).

They proudly note their role in going after Old West outlaws Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, but don’t mention that their operatives were suspected of brutally maiming James’s mother and killing his nine-year-old half-brother in an 1870 raid on James’s house. A few years later, a Pinkerton detective named James McParlan was hired to infiltrate and disrupt the union organizing activities of the Molly Maguires. The Molly Maguires were a secret society of Irish immigrant coal miners who advocated for workers rights, terrorized and even killed foremen and supervisors, and — because they were loath to fight “a rich man’s war” — rebelled against the Civil War draft. Thanks to McParlan’s efforts, a number of Molly Maguires were executed by the state in 1877. According to The New Republic, the Pinkertons were also brought in alongside the Colorado National Guard during the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, in which the guardsmen attacked and set fire to the camp where miners and their families slept. Sixty-six people, many of them women and children, died in the attacks. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, Pinkerton history is not typical of a “risk management” firm.

And it’s no surprise that the Pinkertons are now working with an Amazon facility in Europe.

Just like their 19th century counterparts, massive tech monopolies have been accused of anti-union and anti-worker activities. Sometimes tech companies go further and just propose and fund their own legislation, as Uber and Lyft did with California’s toxic Proposition 22.

So hiring the literal Pinkertons to reportedly surveil workers reads as just one more volley in the war on the working class. But if there is another lesson we can draw from labor’s past, it’s that the people will only put up with so much before they take action. In the 19th century, they reached for pistols and dynamite these days, many union battles are waged in court and on the picket lines. On November 20, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board to represent 1,500 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. If they win, it will be a historic victory for workers in a state that remains key to the grand project of organizing the South. On Black Friday, Amazon workers in 15 different countries staged a coordinated day of protest. The battle has only begun.

The Pinkertons and the Rise of the Private Eye

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was one of the first, and certainly most successful, private detective agencies in America. It was founded by Allan Pinkerton, a staunch abolitionist from Glasgow who fled Scotland in 1842 and moved to Chicago, where he established a barrel-making shop that was also a stop in the Underground Railroad. After stumbling upon a band of coin counterfeiters and helping apprehend them, he was appointed a county deputy sheriff and later became Chicago’s first police detective and an agent for the U.S. postal service.

In 1850, Pinkerton left the force and created the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which specialized in security for railroads and express companies. An early logo for the company, which featured a drawing of a sleepless eye, inspired the term “private eye.”

Kate Warne, the First Female Detective

One day in 1856, a young woman walked into the Pinkerton agency to apply for a job as an investigator. Allan Pinkerton was initially skeptical. But Kate Warne, around 23 years old, assured him that she could “worm out secrets in many places to which is was impossible for male detectives to gain access,” as he recalled in his memoir.

Indeed, she did: Warne helped solve an embezzlement case by befriending the prime suspect’s wife, and Pinkerton asked her to head a division of female detectives in 1860. Allan Pinkerton headed a Union intel-gathering service during the Civil War, and in 1861, helped thwart a plot to assassinate President Lincoln. He’d gotten a tip about the plot and sent several agents, including Warne, to infiltrate pro-Confederate circles in Baltimore. Undercover as a coquettish Southern belle, Warne learned about the details of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln while he transferred from one train to another by carriage in Baltimore. She posed as his caregiver on the journey and helped him change trains safely.

Notoriety and Legacy

In the 1870s, the Pinkertons worked as bounty hunters in the lawless Wild West, chasing outlaws like the Reno Gang, the Wild Bunch, and Frank and Jesse James. Allan Pinkerton died in 1884, leaving the company to his sons. By the 1890s, the Pinkerton agency employed around 2,000 detectives and 30,000 reserve agents — a larger force than the standing army of the U.S. — and had become notorious for infiltrating unions and strikebreaking on behalf of big-time industrialists. At the infamous Homestead Strike, more than 300 Pinkertons were hired by Carnegie Steel to break a union strike at the Homestead, Pennsylvania mills and furnaces. Both strikers and agents died in the ensuing battle, and the Pinkertons gained a reputation as ruthless corporate henchmen and violent union busters. The state of Ohio outlawed them, concerned that they might operate as a private army — to nefarious ends.

The Pinkertons still don’t sleep — the firm exists today, owned by a Swedish security company and operating under the name “Pinkerton.” The company specializes in risk management and security.

But beyond their continued existence, they leave several legacies, for good and ill: The agency’s “Rogues Gallery’, a database of known perpetrators and suspects that included mugshots, newspaper clippings, and criminal histories, presaged national crime databases like the one maintained by the FBI today.

In filling a niche between spotty local law enforcement and a nascent national law enforcement body, the Pinktertons were a kind of forerunner to the FBI and the Secret Service. They also foreshadowed the rise of private security firms like Black Cube and Blackwater, built by ex-spies and operating in the borderlands of morality and ethics.

Perhaps most of all, the Pinkerton agency paved the way for a beloved literary genre — by hiring and training one of its creators.

The Making of Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett

Sam Hammett, a high-school dropout, joined the agency in 1915, when he was 20 years old. He worked on and off shadowing smugglers and philanderers until 1922, when complications from TB and his objections to the agency’s anti-union militancy prompted him to “retire” from sleuthing. Hammett later declared that he “liked gumshoeing better than anything I had done before.”

“I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” —Sam Spade

Then he turned to writing. Sam, using the name “Dashiell Hammett,” went on to create iconic characters like Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles the New York Times called him the “dean of the so-called ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.” His stories were a departure from the staid sleuthing of Victorian-era, drawing-room detective fiction.

As Hammett once wrote to his editor, “Someday somebody’s going to make literature out of detective stories …” By writing what he knew, the iconic PI-turned-literary star did just that.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, in “The Maltese Falcon”

The Historical Significance of Pinkerton

Pinkerton is a private security company with American roots that has one of the most interest backstories of any company out there. Today, they identify and manage businesses risks and security concerns all over the world but to understand why they’ve achieved so much success, it helps to go back to the beginning.

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton immigrated to Chicago in 1842. Initially, he ran a cooperage, a business that made barrels. A few years after he started, he uncovered a band of counterfeiters while he was out scrounging for lumber. His reaction to this discovery was a sign that Pinkerton was not like most people. Instead of walking away, hoping to not get caught, he performed surveillance on the group and eventually helped the local police make the necessary arrests.

That was all he needed to become a local hero and one of the first people the town called for all matters of detective work. Soon, he became sheriff and went on to work for the US Post Office and became a police detective on the Chicago police force.

In 1850, he opened a private investigation company known as Pinkerton Detective Agency that would grow and evolve into the Pinkerton we know today.

While there are a lot of factors that contributed to the company’s success, it’s not an exaggeration to say that a lot of it is directly related to the kind of person Allan Pinkerton was.

Pinkerton’s Interesting Past

Pinkerton was a bit of a visionary. In 1856, he hired the first female detective, a young widow named Kate Warne. Though he was hesitant at first, Pinkerton took a chance on the woman and Warne proved to be a tremendous asset to the company. Pinkerton grew to respect the young lady so much that, when she died in 1868, he buried her in his family plot.

One of the most interesting historical facts about Pinkerton is that it’s believed he foiled an early plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. In 1861, Pinkerton was in Baltimore investigating rumors that people in the area who sympathized with the South in the Civil War were planning to sabotage the railroad. During the investigation, he also uncovered that there was also a plan in place to attempt to assassinate Lincoln while he was on a whistle-stop tour. Pinkerton warned the then president-elect and called on Kate Warne among other agents to get Lincoln on an overnight train to avoid being in Baltimore at the time the plan would be set into action.

Pinkerton also spied for the Union during the Civil War. He established spy rings in the South and also infiltrated groups of Southern sympathizers in the North. He used escaped slaves as a resource to gather information about the enemy.

There are other historic events that Pinkerton was involved with, too. The agency infiltrated the gang responsible for the nation’s first train robbery and even pursued Butch Cassidy. One case where they were unable to get their man was when they spent months hunting down Jesse and Frank James in the 1870s. Pinkerton lost one agent who was trying to infiltrate their gang and two other men in a shootout. In 1875, they raided the home of the boys’ mother. Jesse and Frank were long gone but a standoff ensued. Their mother ended up losing an arm and they took the life of the youngest James brother who was only 8 years old. Public opinion turned against Pinkerton after this incident and they had to give up the pursuit.

That wasn’t the only incident when the public was against Pinkerton. Big business often hired them to spy on unions or to act as strikebreaker and fights with workers were not uncommon. During the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania in 1892, the agency essentially went to war with thousands of striking workers, both sides armed with guns and dynamite. Vastly outnumbered, the Pinkertons surrendered but not before taking the lives of at least a dozen people. They were seen as hired thugs doing the bidding of big business and inspired several states to pass laws against the hiring of outside security in any labor dispute.

Contributions to Modern Law Enforcement

There’s no doubt Pinkerton was a great detective but he also made some contributions to modern law enforcement as well. He’s sometimes credited with inventing the term “private eye” as the company’s logo was an eye and the slogan, “We Never Sleep” is one they still use today.

Pinkerton was also the first to create a file of mug shots and case histories to use in the pursuit of known criminals. They would not anything distinguishing about the wanted men, like scars or other marks, as well as record information about previous arrests, special skills, and any other criminals they were known to associate themselves with. Today, nationwide databases collect and keep the same kind of information for use by police all over the country. Pinkerton’s system wasn’t actually modernized until the FBI was founded in the early 20th century.

After Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton died in 1884 and his two sons took over the agency. They continued to be successful and, by the 1890s, had more detectives and reservists than the United States Army. In fact, the state of Ohio was so afraid they could be used mercenaries that they outlawed the Pinkerton Agency.

Pinkerton Today

While their role has changed, Pinkerton is still very much thriving today. While most of the work they did early on is now done exclusively by police forces and government agencies like the FBI, Pinkerton is now a big player in the private security and guard service. They provide risk advisory services, risk-based screenings, corporate investigations, threat response services, and protection services. While they’re still based in the US, they now have offices and agents around the world. It’s a safe bet that no other agency has quite as colorful a past or as many ties to major historic moments in the United States as Pinkerton

The Pinkertons and Jesse James

There may have been no other train and bank robber in the 1800’s who was sought more than Jesse James. In fact, at one time he most likely was at the very top of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency wanted .

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency started in business in the 1850’s and during the American Civil War was quite active on the Union side in the capacities of both protection and spying. On the other hand, Jesse James and his cohorts were very active for the Confederacy. His cohorts included such infamous names as William Quantrill and his Quantrill’s Raiders who raised havoc with killings and massacres in the volatile Missouri and Kansas area. Also included with this group of irregular Confederate guerrillas was Bloody Bill Anderson who branched off with his own group and did much the same as Quantrill.

Jesse James, most likley taken between 1876-1882

When the Civil War ended in 1865, there remained strong differences that lasted for some time. The popular story of Jesse James was that his rampage of train and bank robberies after the war was his way of continuing the southern resistance. The James and Younger gang members were acquaintances from the Civil War with strong Confederate beliefs. A lot of this thinking was stoked by sensational newspaper and magazine stories which painted the outlaw as a crusader. Some people looked at it this way. The banks and railroads were extensions of the Union.They were the establishment. Attacking them was, in a way, attacking the Union. This thinking prevailed in many quarters even though the Confederacy was gone.

It appears that the number one apologist for the James gangs crimes was an editor at the Kansas City Times by the name of John Newman Edwards. Edwards, originally from Virginia, was a southern sympathizer both during and after the war. From his Kansas City desk, Edwards clear objective was to instill pride in ex-Confederates and help orchestrate their return to political power. In his effort to accomplish this he lionization Jesse James within his articles and editorials. This is thought to be where the Jesse James as “Robin Hood” myth began. I have never read any stories of the James and or Younger gangs giving out any of their monetary spoils to anyone but themselves. The Robin Hood comparison may have been from the mind of an author or news editor. The myth about James played well to large numbers of people from Missouri and Kansas since that area had a good number of ex-Confederates living there.

Cole Younger as a young man

The Pinkertons place in all this was that they were under contract from both the railroads and bank associations to apprehend the outlaws. This included James, Sam Bass, Butch Cassidy and several others. While the Pinkertons often worked in concert with whatever law enforcement group had jurisdiction, this was also an era where detective agencies like the Pinkertons operated as a type of unofficial police force. They were known to take matters in their own hands if need be. There has been a lot written about the Pinkertons and their work on behalf of big business. They were frequently hired by big business interests between the 1870’s and early 1900’s to counter and or prevent labor strike violence. There were other private detective agencies also involved in this type of work.

It is believed that the first robbery by the James Younger gang occurred on February 13, 1866 when $60,000 was stolen from the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty Missouri. This was also chronicled as the first daylight bank robbery during peacetime. A seventeen year old boy was accidentally shot and killed during the gangs escape.

Two of the most reported on crimes involving Jesse James was the attempt to rob the Northfield Minnesota Bank and later in his criminal career, the Blue Cut train robbery near Independence Missouri.

Robert Newton Ford, taken between 1882-1892

The Northfield bank robbery failed. It seems that the town was aware that a bank robbeyr attempt would take place and armed and prepared a defense. This was of course unknown to the James gang which included the Younger brothers. The bank robbery attempt took place on September 6th, 1876 ( just a little over two months after Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn ). The bank targeted was the First National Bank of Northfield. The robbery was a complete failure. A firefight ensued with the towns people and the robbery was thwarted. Jesse James and his brother Frank barely escaped. The remainder of the gang ( Younger Gang ) were either killed or captured. During the robbery attempt a bank employee and bystander were killed. Cole Younger spent many years in a Minnesota prison.

The one sure thing about the Pinkertons was that once they got on your trail they didn’t let up. They were well known for this and the outlaws knew it as well. Pinkerton agents traced James and many times would be seen in towns where James had recently been to. This was the major reason that at the end of James life he was living under the assumed name of Thomas Howard. The banks and the railroads had a large bounty on his head and the Pinkertons, including Alan Pinkerton himself, was putting more and more pressure on Jesse James. There was one incident where the suspected home of Jesse James was firebombed in an effort to either capture or kill him. The tale was that the Pinkertons were heavily involved in the attack. In fact, it’s been written that Allan Pinkerton took a keen interest in the James gang as a personal vendetta of sorts. This may have been because the gang had eluded the Pinkertons for so long. The attack occurred on January 25, 1875 at the James farm. An incendiary device that was thrown inside by the Pinkerton detectives exploded. The bomb killed James’s young half-brother and blew off one of James’s mother’s arms. After the incident, Allan Pinkerton denied that the raid’s intent was to burn the house down. Apparently the Pinkertons were given some tips beforehand by Union loyalists who resided near the farm. Jesse James was not at the farm at the time.

Allan Pinkerton, circa 1861

The last crime that Jesse James was involved with was the robbery of a Chicago and Alton Railroad train in Blue Cut Missouri. Blue Cut is an area very near to Independence Missouri where the trains slowed down at the curve making them more vulnerable to robbery. The Blue Cut robbery stepped up the efforts to capture or kill James and the bounty on his head was increased.

As portrayed in the recent movie regarding Jesse James and his death, he was shot from behind in 1882 at his home by Robert Ford, a member of his gang involved in the Blue Cut train robbery. To this day there are conspiracy theorists who contend that Jesse James faked his own death and lived a long life. DNA evidence on the exhumed remains in 1995 say otherwise. There also was a man who died in Granbury Texas near Fort Worth in 1951 who, at the alleged age of 104 and on his deathbed, claimed to be Jesse James. An exhumation took place by court order on his remains in the year 2000 . DNA tests in 2000 did not match to the DNA taken from an alleged James relative. Granbury believers say there are photos and artifacts that back up their claims. They also say that their Jesse James had a grandson who was a dead ringer for the outlaw. The people of Kearney Missouri where the other Jesse James ( according to DNA testing the real Jesse James) is buried totally discount the Granbury Texas assertions.

While the Jesse James debate continues into the 21st century, today, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency is called Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, and is a subsidiary of Securitas AB, headquartered in Stockholm Sweden.

For those traveling to St. Joseph Missouri, there is the Jesse James Home Museum displayed on the grounds of the Patee House at12th and Mitchell. This is only two blocks away from the homes original location. There is also the Jesse James Farm located on Jesse James Farm Road Kearney, MO.

Pinkerton Detective Agency - History

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Pinkerton Preventive Police Flyer, 1871
Allan Pinkerton emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1842, when he was 23 years old he soon settled in the town of Dundee, northwest of Chicago. By the beginning of the 1850s, Pinkerton and a partner had established the North-Western Police Agency, which had its offices at Washington and Dearborn Streets in Chicago. One of the first private detective agencies in the United States, this company worked for the Illinois Central and other railroads. By late 1850s, Pinkerton employed 15 operatives. During the Civil War, the company provided intelligence to the Northern armies that was not particularly accurate. After the war, promoting itself with the slogan “we never sleep,” the company opened offices in New York City and Philadelphia. Much of its business came from banks and express companies, who wanted to deter robberies. Starting in the 1870s, Pinkerton detectives also began to work for industrial companies as spies and strikebreakers, and they quickly became despised by American labor. The company&aposs most infamous strike-busting operation came in 1892, when 300 Pinkerton employees fought with workers at the Homestead, Pennsylvania, steel plant owned by Andrew Carnegie. When the two sides exchanged gunfire, nine strikers and seven Pinkerton agents were killed. By the time Allan Pinkerton died in 1884, his sons William and Robert Pinkerton were leading the company, which had about 2,000 full-time employees and several thousand “reservists.” During the 1920s, annual revenues approached $2 million. In 1937, Robert Pinkerton II, a great-grandson of the founder, ended the firm&aposs antiunion operations. By the late 1960s, just after the name of the enterprise became Pinkerton&aposs Inc. and the corporate headquarters moved to California, it had 70 branch offices (including central offices in Chicago and New York), about $75 million in annual revenues, and some 13,000 full-time employees worldwide. In the mid-1970s, the company had about 800 employees in the Chicago area. By the end of the century, the enterprise founded a century and a half earlier had become a subsidiary of a large Swedish corporation called Securitas.

This entry is part of the Encyclopedia&aposs Dictionary of Leading Chicago Businesses (1820-2000) that was prepared by Mark R. Wilson, with additional contributions from Stephen R. Porter and Janice L. Reiff.

7 Rags to Riches

The Pinkerton Detective agency, which used to have the motto "We Never Sleep" displayed below an unblinking eye, is sort of the quintessential "American Dream" story. It was founded by one Alan Pinkerton, a young Scottish cooper who had immigrated to the United States in the 1840s to avoid arrest for his role in promoting sometimes violent protests as part of the pro-worker and pro-democracy Chartist movement. The official Pinkerton About Us page starts the timeline after he came to the United States.

The Pinkerton Agency: The History of Allan Pinkerton and America’s First Major Private Detective Organization

"By the mid-1850s a few businessmen saw the need for greater control over their employees their solution was to sponsor a private detective system. In February 1855, Allan Pinkerton, after consulting with six midwestern railro *Includes pictures
*Includes contemporary accounts
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

"By the mid-1850s a few businessmen saw the need for greater control over their employees their solution was to sponsor a private detective system. In February 1855, Allan Pinkerton, after consulting with six midwestern railroads, created such an agency in Chicago." - Frank Morn, historian

The private detective looms large in popular culture, both in the United States and around the world. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and even 1980s’ Thomas Magnum, private detectives have been a staple of novels, movies, and television shows for well over a century. The loner for hire, trying to solve a mystery or right a wrong using nothing but their own brain (in Holmes’ case), brawn (in Marlowe’s case), or boy next door charm (in Magnum’s case), is deeply rooted in the collective psyche of generations of men and women. The fact that today’s private detective is more likely to be chasing a cheating spouse than tracking down a desperate criminal is beside the point.

Holmes, Marlowe, and Magnum owe their existence to the first private detective—and if not the first, certainly in the United States the most famous. The name Allan Pinkerton was for decades synonymous with private detective indeed, the work “Pinkerton” was generally used for any private detective whether or not they were associated with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The all-seeing eye that served as the symbol of his company and the slogan—“We Never Sleep”—projected an image of a detective working tirelessly to pursue a desperate criminal and bring them to justice. Through his career, Pinkerton went after bank robbers and railroad theves, both relatively unknown and infamous like Frank and Jesse James. During the Civil War, he was instrumental in preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and ran an extensive intelligence operation against the South. As America industrialized, his detectives were brought into labor disputes by management seeking to break attempts at unions. This last put a stain on Pinkerton’s legacy, a legacy he tried to establish by publishing numerous books about his exploits and the exploits of his detectives. A self-promoter as much as a detective, Allan Pinkerton and his story is a quintessentially American one.

The Pinkerton Agency: The History of Allan Pinkerton and America’s First Major Private Detective Organization looks at the life story of the man who formed the detective agency, and the important milestones in the organization’s history. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about the Pinkertons like never before. . more

Watch the video: All Of Pinkertons Kills And Murders Red Dead Redemption Series In Order (June 2022).


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