On this day 190 years ago Allan Pinkerton was born in Scotland. He came to the United States in 1842, settling in Chicago, where he began work as a detective for local and federal police. His duties predominantly dealt with counterfeiting and mail fraud. In 1855 he formed his own agency known as the North West Police Agency.
Pinkerton’s rise to national fame came during the Civil War when he successfully thwarted an assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Later during the war he was asked by General George B. McClellan to act as a spy. He indeed became a very effective spy in and around Virginia and his unit became known as the “Secret Service.”
Allan Pinkerton with Abraham Lincoln and General John McClernand at Antietam in 1862.
His career included the investigation of such criminals as the James Gang, the Dalton Brothers, and the infamous Molly Maguires. Some of his more controversial activities revolved around his involvement in labor disputes where his men served to strike breakers. Perhaps the most notorious of these was the famous Pullman Strike of 1894.