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The company now operates as "Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, Inc. d.b.a. Pinkerton Corporate Risk Management", a division of the Swedish security company Securitas AB. The former Government Services division, PGS, now operates as Securitas Critical Infrastructure Services, Inc.
In the 1850s, Allan Pinkerton, Scottish detective and spy, met Chicago attorney Edward Rucker in a local Masonic Hall and formed the North-Western Police Agency, later known as the Pinkerton Agency.
Historian Frank Morn writes: "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."
In 1871, Congress appropriated $50,000 (about equivalent to $1,046,000 in 2018) to the new Department of Justice (DOJ) to form a sub-organization devoted to "the detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law." The amount was insufficient for the new DOJ to fashion an internal investigating unit, so they contracted out the services to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
However, since passage of the Anti-Pinkerton Act in 1893, federal law has stated that an "individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization, may not be employed by the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia."
Chicago "Special Officers" and watchmen
July 27, 1877: J.J. White, who had been hired as a "Special Officer" during a strike, was shot and killed.
July 19, 1919: Hans Rassmuson, Special Officer, was shot and killed.
March 12, 1924: Frank Miller, Pinkerton Watchman, was shot and killed.
Frick's letter describing the plans and munitions that will be on the barges when the Pinkertons arrive to confront the strikers in Homestead
On July 6, 1892, during the Homestead Strike, 300 Pinkerton detectives from New York and Chicago were called in by Carnegie Steel's Henry Clay Frick to protect the Pittsburgh-area mill and strikebreakers. This resulted in a firefight and siege in which 16 men were killed, and 23 others were wounded. To restore order, two brigades of the Pennsylvania militia were called out by the Governor.
Bogus written and distributed by Indiana University students in 1890. The Pinkerton Agency was hired to find the authors.
In 1890, Indiana University hired the Pinkerton Agency to investigate the authorship of a student "bogus" that had been distributed throughout town. While boguses were not uncommon, this particular one attacked IU faculty and students with such graphic language that Bloomington residents complained. The detective arrived in Bloomington on April 26 and spent nearly two weeks conducting interviews and dispatching regular reports back to the home office. In the end, it was town talk that led to the student authors and not the work of the agent. The seven Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers were from locally prominent families, including the son of a Trustee, but all were expelled. In 1892, however, the Trustees granted five of the men their degrees and all seven were reinstated in good standing.
Outlaws and competition
Pinkerton agents were hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno Gang, and the Wild Bunch (including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). On March 17, 1874, two Pinkerton Detectives and a deputy sheriff, Edwin P. Daniels, encountered the Younger brothers (associates of the James-Younger Gang); Daniels, John Younger, and one Pinkerton agent were killed. In Union, Missouri a bank was robbed by George Collins, aka Fred Lewis, and Bill Randolph; Pinkerton Detective Chas Schumacher trailed them and was killed. Collins was hanged on March 26, 1904, and Randolph was hanged on May 8, 1905, in Union. Pinkertons were also hired for transporting money and other high-quality merchandise between cities and towns, which made them vulnerable to outlaws. Pinkerton agents were usually well paid and well armed.
Due to its conflicts with labor unions, the word Pinkerton continues to be associated by labor organizers and union members with strikebreaking. Pinkertons diversified from labor spying following revelations publicized by the La Follette Committee hearings in 1937, and the firm's criminal detection work also suffered from the police modernization movement, which saw the rise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the bolstering of detective branches and resources of the public police. With less of the labor and criminal investigation work on which Pinkertons thrived for decades, the company became increasingly involved in protection services, and in the 1960s, even the word "detective" disappeared from the agency's letterhead. The company now focuses on threat intelligence, risk management, executive protection, and active shooter response.
In 1999, the company was bought by Securitas AB, a Swedish security company, for $384 million, followed by the acquisition of the William J. Burns Detective Agency (founded in 1910), longtime Pinkerton rival, to create (as a division of the parent) Securitas Security Services USA.
1870-1925 -- Solid silver badge with engraved lettering
1925-1930 -- Silver-colored eagle badge with blue lettering
1930-present -- gold-colored shield with black lettering
Appearance in popular media
Author Beverly Jenkins makes reference to Pinkerton agents in many of her novels including, "Vivid" and "Before the Dawn".
Dashiell Hammett'sContinental Op detective stories were based on his experiences working for the Pinkerton agency for several periods during 1917-22. The Baltimore branch, where Hammett first worked, was housed in the Continental Trust Building; the Pinkerton agency was not named. Hammett also worked in the San Francisco office, thus many of the Op stories were set in that city. They were published in Black Mask magazine from 1923-30. There have been several Continental Op book collections. Four of the stories were combined to form Hammett's first novel Red Harvest.
In Laird Barron's short story "Bulldozer", the Pinkerton protagonist Jonah Koenig hunts down a wanted criminal who also happens to dabble in profane occult rituals.
Maria "Belle" Boyd, a lead character in Cherie Priest's steampunk novel Fiddlehead, works for the Pinkerton detective agency.
Clive Cussler is often reputed to base his Isaac Bell series' Van Dorn Detective Agency upon the Pinkerton Detective Agency. This is often disputed, however.
In the 1995 Doctor Who book Shakedown (novelization of Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans) the Doctor's companions Chris and Roz pretend to be agents of the galactic offshoot of the Pinkertons on the planet Megerra in 2376.
In a romance series of novellas, The Pinkerton Matchmaker, written by many different authors.
Allan Pinkerton and several agents play a vital role in the film American Outlaws (2001), starring Colin Farrell and Gabriel Macht as Jesse and Frank James. Pinkerton and his detectives are hired by the owner of the fictional Rock Northern Rail Road to track down Jesse James and his gang following a series of robberies aimed at the owner of the railroad.
The Pinkertons have been featured in the 1980 movie The Long Riders, where Pinkerton agents are depicted investigating criminal activity of the James brothers.
In the Canadian-American television drama When Calls the Heart, Pinkerton security officers are employed by the mining company managed by Henry Gowen (Martin Cummins)
Michael Dorn played Mr. Eastman, a detective sent by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate the kidnapping of a wealthy man's wife, in the tenth episode of the second season of the TV series The Dead Man's Gun titled "The Pinkerton", which originally aired on October 30, 1998.
Mentioned in four episodes -- "Let Loose the Dogs," "Werewolves," "Summer of '75," "Manual for Murder"--of the 2008-present Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries.
In the television series Deadwood, the Pinkertons are prominently featured as mercenaries paid for by George Hearst, the final season's antagonist.
The protagonist of the video game BioShock Infinite, Booker DeWitt, is an ex-Pinkerton known for his violent methods in putting down strikes.
In the online game Poptropica, Pinkerton's services are used to catch a thief on Mystery Train Island.
Pinkerton agents appear as antagonists in Red Dead Redemption 2. The Pinkerton detectives are enemies with orders to track down the Van Der Linde gang after they stage a robbery in the town of Blackwater which went horribly wrong resulting in the Van Der Linde Gang fleeing across the map. The modern-day Pinkerton security company issued a cease-and-desist notice to Take-Two Interactive, publisher of Red Dead Redemption 2, in 2019 over the use of the company's trademarks and the game's negative portrayal of Pinkertons as villains. Take-Two filed a suit striking back at the cease-and-desist notice from Pinkerton, wanting a court to rule that its use of the Pinkerton name -- as part of a game that emphasizes historical accuracy -- was fair use, but on April 11, 2019, Pinkerton dismissed their lawsuit and settled out of court with Take-Two.
5 U.S. Code 3108; Public Law 89-554, 80 Stat. 416 (1966); ch. 208 (5th par. under "Public Buildings"), 27 Stat. 591 (1893). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in U.S. ex rel. Weinberger v. Equifax, 557 F.2d 456 (5th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1035 (1978), held that "The purpose of the Act and the legislative history reveal that an organization was 'similar' to the Pinkerton Detective Agency only if it offered for hire mercenary, quasi-military forces as strikebreakers and armed guards. It had the secondary effect of deterring any other organization from providing such services lest it be branded a 'similar organization.'" 557 F.2d at 462; see also"GAO Decision B-298370; B-298490, Brian X. Scott (Aug. 18, 2006)".