Private detectives – The trendsetters
Today, we are familiar with the concept of private detectives and they are more in demand than ever.
But where did the detective agency begin and who initiated the trend of using their services to strengthen a legal case, investigate misdemeanours, ne’er do wells and cheats?
Who: Eugène François Vidocq created Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l’Industrie.
Where: Paris, France.
What: Acted like the police as he investigated – to the client’s satisfaction.
Why: He is notable in private detective history for hiring ex-convicts and allegedly never handing anyone over to the police if they’d stolen from real need.
How: Introduced ballistics, record keeping, indelible ink and plaster cast impressions.
It was 1833 when the first known detective agency opened for business. Surprisingly, the creator, Eugene Francois Vidocq, was not a hardened law enforcer with a blemish free history.
He was the son of a baker, Nicolas, and his wife, Henriette, and was born in Arras in July 1775. His father was well educated and they were fairly affluent. The young Eugene was said to be cunning but lazy. He formed a career as a fencer in the fighting halls and subsidised his lifestyle by stealing.
As a teenager, he stole silver plate from his parents. His father saw that he was arrested and jailed for 2 weeks but this did not stop Eugene Vidocq’s lawless existence. He stole money from them the following year and made for the port of Ostend to sail to America. Ironically, a thief stole the money from him.
In time, he went home to Arras and begged for forgiveness from his parents. In 1791, he joined the Bourbon Regiment.
He was a privateer as much as a soldier so his life was spent largely at war. His victorious battles entitled him and fellow Frenchmen to claim the spoils from the enemy. Think of him in the same light as Sir Francis Drake, but with a habit of being imprisoned for misdemeanours. He only claimed that one case against him was a set up.
After initiating and running the La Surete, The Security Brigade, in post Napoleonic Paris from 1811, his enterprise, Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l’Industrie or The Office of Universal Information for Commerce and Industry was started in 1833. It was unappreciated by the authorities and they tried to close him down several times. Part of the problem, in the officials’ eyes, was that Vidocq was an ex-convict who hired ex-convicts, this gave them their excuse to discredit his operation.
However, he persisted and many of the techniques he initiated in the 1800’s are still employed by the French police in the 21st century.
In the initial years, the private detective worked as the police did but with a subtle difference.
They investigated for individuals or organisations who often felt that the police were not listening to them, were not investigating fully, were on the wrong path or ignoring an important lead.
As with today’s police forces, resources are limited and so the private detective gained popularity for being able to do the work their clients felt necessary but the police were unable or disinclined to deploy staff on.
A major call on the private detective agency was to intervene in labour disputes to bring about resolutions and to act as armed guards and protection.
Vidocq died in 1857 aged 81, his last term in jail was in 1849.
Using Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l’Industrie and Vidocq as inspiration it was not long before private detective agencies started to pop up around the world. Their place in history was sealed and Vidocq inspired writers. Personal and professional investigations became more common.
Who: Charles Frederick Field – ex Metropolitan Police – Detective Branch.
What: He used his extensive experience from working in the police to carry out investigations and resolve issues.
Why: He was one of the earliest private detectives in the UK and was well known thanks to his friendship with the journalist, author and enthusiastic criminologist, Charles Dickens. (1812-1870.)
How: Good old detective work.
In a private capacity, the curious Charles Dickens frequented the unsafe and squalid areas of London (this also informed his writing) and as a journalist, Dickens met Field when he was still at the Metropolitan Police. He would often accompany him on investigations and this habit continued when Field retired from the police force after 23 years.
Field entered the Metropolitan Police in 1829 as a sergeant in E Division, progressed to L Division and became an Inspector at Woolwich Dockyards. In 1846, he joined Detective Branch and when he retired he was the chief there.
Dickens wrote many articles about Field and his private detective work. This made Field, his notable cases and the benefits of using a private detective widely known. He was a hero, lauded in the press.
He wasn’t universally popular though, his tendency to use his police rank when he was a private detective was not unacceptable so his conduct was investigated twice and his pension halted for four months in 1861. The Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, finally laid the matter to rest in 1865. By this time Field has ceased work as a private detective.
Field was the inspiration for Inspector Bucket in Charles Dicken’s novel Bleak House, serialised between March 1852 and September 1853.
Both Dickens and Field had a flair for dramatic performance, Field would have liked to be an actor. He indulged himself by wearing disguises and taking on personas during investigations. Perhaps every private detective needs acting ability to succeed.
Field passed away in 1874 aged 69.
You’ll be delighted to learn that the private detectives at X Three Surveillance Ltd. are all ex-military, police or close protection workers who have been vetted and have passed every test to practice in the industry. You won’t find a Vidocq like character handling your case and we don’t attract the press attention of Field. Discretion is guaranteed.
Allan Pinkerton – US detective agency legend and Scot.
Allan Pinkerton became a private detective by accident. However, Pinkerton’s became synonymous with private detectives over 150 years ago in the US.
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was founded in Chicago in 1850 by Scottish immigrant Allan Pinkerton as a detective agency with security guard services and military style task fulfilment. They also assisted in factory disputes, acting to banish unionists and strike activists.
The agency’s logo which is an eye embellished with the motto of “We Never Sleep” inspired the colloquial term private eye.
1819: August 25th, Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland.
1842: Allan Pinkerton immigrated to the Chicago area from Scotland and opened a cooperage, (barrel-making) establishment.
1847: Pinkerton discovered a group of counterfeiters whilst looking for wood on an island in the Fox River. He carried out surveillance on them, helped police to make arrests and became a local hero. He was then employed as sheriff in a small town.
1849: He became Chicago’s first police detective and a US Post Office agent.
1850: Pinkerton National Detective Agency was created. The first office opened at 80 Washington Street, Chicago.
1856: The first female private investigator in the world was hired by Pinkerton. 23 year old Kate Warne was a widow who argued that women could be effective detectives. The men doubted it but Allan Pinkerton gave her a chance to prove her abilities. She quickly became acclaimed and encouraged other women in to private detective work.
Sadly, her career was cut short. She died from pneumonia aged 38 years old in 1868. She was buried at the Pinkerton family’s plot.
1861: Allan Pinkerton was investigating rumours that Southern sympathizers might try to sabotage the rail lines between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. As he gathered intelligence, it became clear to him that an assassination attempt was planned on President-Elect Abraham Lincoln as he changed trains at Baltimore on his way to Washington D.C.
Pinkerton informed Lincoln and several Pinkerton agents including Kate Warne set a counter plan in action. Lincoln secretly boarded a train and travelled overnight so that he was clear of Baltimore long before an attempt could be made on his life. Lincoln posed as Kate Warne’s invalid brother.
Lincoln’s published schedule was used to plan the assassination but telegraph poles were cut so that conspirators could not warn their allies along the route and stage another attempt elsewhere. Lincoln arrived in Washington D.C. the following morning unharmed. Unfortunately, when it became public knowledge that the president-elect had sneaked through Baltimore he was called a coward by the press. In another regrettable result, as none of the would-be assassins were caught it was speculated that the threat may have been exaggerated or perhaps invented by Pinkerton to gain publicity.
1861-1865: As the Civil War proceeded in the 1860’s Allan Pinkerton’s loyalty was firmly to the Union. He organized a secret intelligence service for General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. He set up spy rings behind enemy lines and infiltrated southern sympathizer groups in the North’s territories.
His agents interviewed escaped slaves to gather information about the Confederacy. Not all the data they accrued was accurate and in 1862 Peninsula Campaign Pinkerton’s intelligence had the enemy forces as twice the size they truly were. This led military leaders to delay combat and ask for unnecessary reinforcements.
1860’s-1890’s: Some of their highest profile cases were to track down the outlaws the Wild Bunch including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse James and the Reno brothers.
1870’s: The Rogues’ Gallery was started. This was an archive of mug shots, he also collected newspaper clippings, case histories and previous conviction information. Pinkerton noted any unusual features or scars to identify people with. It was the early 20th century before a more sophisticated library was created by the FBI.
1871: Pinkerton Private Detective Agency was hired to prevent looting after the Great Fire in Chicago.
1884: Allan Pinkerton died on 1st July. It may have been caused by gangrene, a stroke or malaria. No one knows.
1890’s: After his death, his sons Robert and William continued the agency and at its most prosperous, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had more personnel than the whole standing US army. This led to them being outlawed in the state of Ohio, its leaders viewed the agency as a potential threat because Pinkerton’s could have hired its agents out as a private army.
1892: During the Homestead Strike staged by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, the Carnegie Steel Company hired approximately 300 Pinkerton’s private detectives to act as security at its Homestead mill.
Pinkerton agents killed at least 12 people and injured many more by enforcing the drastic measures of Henry Clay Frick who acted on behalf of Andrew Carnegie. This was not their finest hour, the private detectives were branded as “hired thugs.” The steel industry suffered and several US states passed laws that banned hiring guards in disputes.
The 20th century to today:
1906: Pinkerton Private Detective Agency had 20 offices in the US.
1907: The company was inherited by Allan Pinkerton’s grandson Allan Pinkerton II.
1920’s: Private investigators were used by the wealthy predominantly, it was the 1920’s that saw them becoming commercially accessible to working Americans.
1930: Robert Pinkerton II inherited Pinkerton Private Detective Agency.
1970: In March Pinkerton’s was trademarked.
1999: The legendary Pinkerton Private Detective Agency was acquired by Securitas AB.
2000: 150th anniversary of the Pinkerton Private Detective Agency. A vast volume of archive material was donated to Washington D.C.’s Library of Congress.
2017: Pinkerton’s operates in over 100 countries. The global headquarters have relocated from New Jersey to Michigan.
At X Three Surveillance Ltd. our private detective agency may not have been open for business for over a century but we’ve made a positive impact since we began in 2012. We share Pinkerton’s drive and passion for goal achievement and justice. As an icon, it’s hard to imagine another detective taking his place. Unless one of our team wants to take on the mantle?