Postal Inspector Allan Pinkerton

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was developed in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton. The agency was a top-of-the-line security and detective agency in the United States. But Allan Pinkerton began his career as a Special Agent for the Post Office Department, the forerunner of the position now known as United States Postal Inspector.

Allan Pinkerton's Early Career

In 1842, Allan Pinkerton immigrated from Scotland to the Chicago region of Illinois. He opened a barrel-making business and had fairly good success. Five years later, while searching for lumber on an island in Fox River, Pinkerton stumbled across a band of counterfeiters and proceeded to help take them down.

This launched Pinkerton's detective career. he was appointed the sheriff of a small-town, then moved on to becoming Chicago's first police detective and a Special Agent for the U.S. Post Office. During this time it was common for people like Pinkerton to be contracted out for a short period with the Inspection Service to help solve specific crimes. In this case, Pinkerton's expertise was needed for railroads and counterfeiting.

Pinkerton & Lincoln

Pinkerton's time with the Post Office was relatively short. He left and created the Pinkerton Detective Agency, a private security and detective agency, three years after his contract with the Inspection Service. The success of Pinkerton's agency brought him national recognition as "one of the most expert detective officers in the country."

Pinkerton's agency became so successful that Abraham Lincoln selected Pinkerton to guard him while traveling from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. in 1861, ultimately preventing an assassination attempt. After the Civil War broke out, Pinkerton was appointed Chief of Intelligence for the Union Army under George McClellan. He remained a vital asset of the union during the Civil War.

The Pinkerton Legacy

Today, the Pinkerton Detective Agency is still considered one of the most successful and advanced security groups in the nation. "Private eye" stems from the Pinkerton Agency. The original logo of a giant eye and the motto "We Never Sleep" gave way to the famed term.

The Pinkerton Agency was well ahead of its time. he hired his first female detective in 1856, Kate Warne. Women have continuously been an important part of the agency. Pinkerton's "Rogues' Gallery" was the first ever law enforcement database. They collected news clippings, case files, and mugshots of criminals that could be utilized in research. A more advanced system would not be put into place until the FBI created a criminal library in the 1900s.


Explore the history of the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Learn More