Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish-American detective who founded the ‘Pinkerton National Detective Agency’. During the Civil war, when the secret service was devoid of technology, Allan and his troops managed to do their best to gather military intelligence. He was one of the first few people who showed the world how information can be extracted from enemy territory by working as an ‘Undercover agent’. Allan is remembered by many as the genius who foiled the assassination attempt on the legendary American icon Abraham Lincoln during the latter’s visit to Maryland. This incident grabbed the attention of even many modern day filmmakers who recreated it on celluloid. Pinkerton’s detective agency which he co-founded more than 2 centuries ago continues to operate till date as ‘Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations’. Pinkerton was a great supporter of labourers, and was against the thought of suppressing the labour class by aristocrats or influential people of the society. Allan was also known to be very honest with the clients who required his services. He never even hiked his fee without a consultation with the client.
Childhood & Early Life
Allan was born on August 25, 1819 to Isobel McQueen and William Pinkerton at Glasgow, Scotland. Allan’s home, which is also his place of birth, was demolished later and the famous Glasgow Central Mosque was erected at the site.
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Allan was a cooper by profession, and was also an active member of the British Chartist movement at the same time. The movement was an initiative of the working class to bring few political reforms in the country.
Allan migrated to the United States in 1842. He continued his profession as a cooper even during his early days in the United States. Allan had set up a cooperage near Dundee, Illinois, to carry out this business.
After working for abolitionist leaders for some time, Allan was officially appointed as a detective in Chicago. A year later, in 1850, Allan collaborated with Chicago Attorney Edward Rucker to form the ‘North Western Police Agency’ which came to be known later as ‘Pinkerton National Detective Agency’.
Allan was appointed the head of the Union Intelligence Service during the American Civil War years of 1861-62. He played a pivotal role in preventing an attempt to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln at Maryland in his tenure.
Allan worked as an undercover agent by name ‘Major E.J Smith’, and so did his associates, in a bid to gather military intelligence at the time of the Civil war. This department of undercover agents was later renamed as the ‘U.S Secret Service’.
Post-Civil War, Allan was given responsibilities of nabbing criminals such as Jesse James, who frequently robbed trains and created ruckus. However this time, Allan not only failed to nab the criminal, but also lost one of his agents who was killed by Jesse James. Allan was criticized for being inefficient and the assignment turned out to be the worst chapter of Allan’s career.
One controversy surrounding Allan Pinkerton’s career is that the latter was assigned the task of suppressing a revolution to end slavery by the Spanish government. It’s not clear whether Allan agreed to this since he favoured abolition of slavery in the early days of his career.
Allan Pinkerton is the author of a book ‘Spy of The Rebellion’ which was released in 1883. This book which was based on Allan’s real-life experiences as a detective has been the subject of many controversies. Many criticize Pinkerton’s intention of writing the book as a way to promote his agency. It’s also alleged that Allan had hired a ghost writer to pen this book.
Personal Life & Legacy
Allan married singer Joan Carfrae in 1842, before the couple moved to America together. He stayed away from his wife for about a year while he was setting up the cooperage in Illinois during their initial days at the United States.
Pinkerton died on July 1, 1884 in Chicago at the age of 64. The cause of his death has been a reason of debate amongst various researchers. Few claim that Allan was a victim of Gangrene, which was the result of his fall on the pavement during which he bit his tongue. According to few other sources, the man had fallen prey to stroke, which became the cause of death.
After his death, the workers of his agency misused the enterprise and paved way for a series of strikes against the labour movement. Some of these anti-labour movements were the ‘Homestead Strike’, ‘The Pullman Strike’, and ‘The Ludlow Massacre’. Allan Pinkerton was, however, totally against the concept of strikes and agitations.
This famous American detective was the inspiration behind more than a dozen Hollywood movies. Noteworthy among these are ‘The Life and Legend of Wyatt Yerp’, ‘Saving Lincoln’ and ‘American Outlaws’.