Thursday, January 06, 2011

Allan Pinkerton

This leader really had two things, a keen eye for detail, and hatred of crime. Let's talk about the detail portion for a minute. Even before reading to the end of the article, I found that Mr. Pinkerton had reminded me of Sherlock Holmes. If you have read Sherlock Holmes, you will note that the key to solving the crimes he investigated was approaching the case with no bias, and assuming nothing. He basically took everything in, missing nothing, and through deduction and logic was able to solve the case. Pinkerton was also the same way, and was able to understand people.

Today's leader teaches us about having a keen eye for detail and when observing something, keeping an objective perspective and noticing things others may not keep an eye on.

Allan Pinkerton Had A Keen Eye For Security

Allan Pinkerton had a thriving business as a barrel maker near Chicago.
One day in 1846, cutting wood on an uninhabited island, he noticed an area that had been torched.
"This might not have seemed out of the ordinary to most people, but for him it was a portent of wrong-doing," James Mackay wrote in "Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye." "Later in life, this sixth sense enabled him to anticipate a crime even before it had happened. This was allied with a persistence that refused to be worn down by disappointment."

Pinkerton returned to the island a few nights later and watched counterfeiters light a fire to do their work. He returned with the sheriff, who arrested them.
This and other crime-solving exploits led to his being appointed Chicago's first detective in 1849.
Pinkerton (1819-84) went on to create the first private detective agency in the Americas, developing many of the investigative techniques that became standard for the profession.

"He single-handedly built what was the 19th-century version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Richard Wormser wrote in "Pinkerton: America's First Private Detective."
Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, Pinkerton learned the cooper (barrel making) trade and was a fearless organizer in the movement for worker rights before moving to America at 23. He was made a detective at 30.

Pinkerton's Keys

  • Created the forerunner of the FBI.
  • "My idea is to never lose heart, never think for a moment of giving up the ship. I am bound to go through, sink or swim."
In his first case, he tracked down two kidnapped girls and rescued them. After a year, he grew tired of the police force's corruption and wanted to be free of influence by politicians. He partnered with attorney Edward Rucker to set up shop.

Awake On The Job
Calling it the Northwest Police Agency, Pinkerton gave it the motto "We Never Sleep" and the logo of an open eye, which led to its agents being called private eyes. A year later, Rucker left to become a judge, and the company was renamed Pinkerton's National Detective Agency.
Many of his operatives had never done police work; some had worked only as clerks, farmers or jewelers. Pinkerton didn't mind. He felt honesty was the top quality he needed.

He also looked for those with natural instincts about people and common sense. He could train them to read faces, look for clues, act a part and keep secrets.

"He was a maverick in detective work," Judith Pinkerton Josephson (no relation), author of "Allan Pinkerton: The Original Private Eye," said. "Many of the techniques he created — shadowing, surveillance techniques, disguises, code names, hiring women agents — were later used as the model for agencies that came after him."

"He investigated cases in a manner that was worthy of Sherlock Holmes," Wormser wrote. "He followed every lead, analyzed every clue, took nothing for granted and made keen deductions based on the evidence he gathered. Some of his most successful cases were solved because he noticed the way a picture hung on a wall, discovered a charred piece of cloth in the fireplace or overheard a chance remark by a stranger."
One of Pinkerton's innovations was the Rogues' Gallery, pictures of thousands of known criminals and suspects, with notations about their physical characteristics and personal habits. Police nationwide heard about it and fed him information.

Pinkerton also made enemies and barely survived plans to kill him.
He charged high fees, but business was strong, most of the work coming from corporations, wealthy individuals and government agencies. As railroads laid 2,000 miles of track in Illinois alone from 1851 to 1856, trains became targets for robbers and needed Pinkerton's help.
While working for the Illinois Central Railroad, he met two men who would be crucial to his career and the country: the railroad's attorney, Abraham Lincoln, and the firm's vice president, George McClellan, who would command the Union Army.

The Exception
Pinkerton believed in absolute obedience to the law except when it came to helping fugitive slaves. He provided a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves and funded militant abolitionist John Brown.

In February 1861, Lincoln was to travel by train to Washington, D.C., to be inaugurated as president. With no Secret Service back then, the owner of the railroad asked Pinkerton to guarantee no danger.
He went undercover, posing as a financial adviser sympathetic to Maryland's slaveholders. He discovered that militant secessionists aimed to assassinate Lincoln when he changed trains in Baltimore.

He had the president-elect put on a disguise and take a different train. His agents waved lanterns at points along the way that indicated the tracks had been checked for safety.
During that covert train ride, Pinkerton advised Lincoln, "Sir, I beg of you, no matter what the circumstances, never attend the theater."

Pinkerton did intelligence gathering for McClellan when the general commanded troops from Illinois, Indiana and Ohio in the opening months of the Civil War. Then, after the Union loss at Bull Run in July 1861, Lincoln put McClellan in charge of the Army of the Potomac.

Lincoln asked Pinkerton to head the Union Intelligence Service. The agent's operatives quickly fanned out over the Southern states. Pinkerton pretended to be a Southern gentleman or an English lord, letting him mingle with rebel leaders.

In one of his first cases, he busted a spy ring run by a D.C. socialite who gathered information at her parties.
McClellan was made supreme commander of Union forces in November, but he refused to go on the offense because of what he thought were overwhelming rebel numbers.

Political enemies blamed Pinkerton for delivering this false intelligence, but Mackay wrote that "nowhere in the voluminous reports is there a shred of evidence to support these suppositions."
Lincoln had enough of McClellan's delays by November 1862 and axed him. That was Pinkerton's cue to return to Chicago to rebuild his business. In April 1865, five days after the war's end, the president was shot at Ford's Theater and died.

"Pinkerton wept, feeling that he could have protected his friend," Josephson said.
A new kind of crime flourished after the war, with bands of relatives and their friends robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains. One of the worst was the Reno gang in the Midwest. Pinkerton had arrested all its members by 1868.

Staying Alive
Twice he was nearly killed by assassins, one sent by Canadian bandits, the other from rival detectives.
By 1869, Pinkerton had a business that brought in $1 million a year, with 20 detectives and 60 guards. Although assisted by his sons, Robert and William, Allan insisted on making every decision. The workload at age 50 contributed to a stroke. Expected to never speak or walk again, he did both in the next two years.
Just as he returned to work in 1871, a fire burned down much of Chicago, including the Pinkerton offices.

The Rogues' Gallery, the files from heading up Union Intelligence and 400 volumes were destroyed.
While the buildings were still smoldering, Pinkerton began rebuilding and reopened in a year.
Meantime, the agency boomed with the demand for guards to protect buildings from looters.
"Tenacious and driven, Pinkerton and his sons chased Jesse James and his gang for 16 years, though they never caught them," Josephson said. "This intense attitude extended to everything he did, including coping with tough economic times, such as the economic depression of the 1870s."

The last major operation Pinkerton headed was against the Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society among coal miners in Pennsylvania.

A former labor activist himself, Pinkerton refused to suppress union organizing but thought the Mollies were thugs. He broke up the gang, but this hurt his reputation among some Irish-Americans.
Pinkerton decided to semiretire and wrote popular books, including "Thirty Years a Detective," about his exploits and those of his agents.

In 1884, Pinkerton slipped on ice and died from his injuries. He had been working on a system that would centralize all information about criminals, a database that is now maintained by the FBI.
After his death, his sons did engage in strike-breaking on behalf of big business, which gave its agents, known as pinkertons, a bad reputation among workers.

Today, Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations has global operations as a subsidiary of Stockholm-based Securitas AB. "In his 28-year career, Allan Pinkerton and his agents investigated over a thousand crimes," Wormser wrote. "To some he was a superhero, to others a villain. But even his enemies conceded he was the best private detective of his time."

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