The Pinkertons

Allan Pinkerton, 1819 – 1884

Portrait of Allan Pinkerton

Brady’s National photographic Galleries

Founder of the agency that eventually became synonymous with detectives in general, Pinkerton’s is the best remembered name in a largely forgotten detective history. Serving as an effective national police force in the second half of the 19th century, the Pinkerton agency fought spies and assassins in the Civil War, and infamous gangs like the Jameses and Renos during the Wild West era of legend.

Yet Pinkerton, originally a poorly educated village craftsman, only became a detective through a series of accidents. Moreover, even as a conservative law-and-order businessman, Pinkerton advocated surprising, even radical views on abolition, women’s rights and religion. Nearly overshadowed by the legend of the Pinkertons, the story of Allan Pinkerton, himself, is fascinating in its own right.


William Pinkerton, 1846 – 1923
Robert Pinkerton, 1848 – 1907

Portrait of William Pinkerton

William Pinkerton, undated

The Pinkerton dynasty’s later generations have almost vanished in the large shadow of its founder. Yet William and Robert were, arguably, even greater detectives than their father, and at least as famous in their time. Together or separately they tracked some of the most colorful and daring criminals of the Victorian era, from the most remote corners of the United Sates to the capitals of Latin America and Europe. Through their duels with master thieves, including “The Napoleon of Crime” Adam Worth, the Pinkerton brothers won international fame and respect for themselves and their agency. At the same time, however, they also expanded business into security operations—and, as a consequence, into the violent struggle between capital and labor—to disastrous result.

Read more about the Pinkertons in Brilliant Deduction, or search the blog.

Portrait of Allan Pinkerton from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. [LC-USZ62-136277]

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