-: May 22, 2017 / Carlos Rivero, Jr.

The First Security Guard


Think you have it rough? The first security guards may have been bona-fide slaves.

The earliest record of a kind of security guard dates back to the era of Jesus or before in Alexandria, Egypt. But facts about those guards are scant.

Much more is known about the Vigiles Urbanis of Rome. They were actually a fire brigade on the lookout for fires and, secondarily, any civil disturbances.

In the United States, the distinction of being the first security guard belongs to barrel-maker-turned-detective Allan Pinkerton.

Scottish-born Pinkerton emigrated to America in 1842 and rose to prominence by uncannily being in the right place at the right time.

From his earliest days, surprisingly, Pinkerton was the kind of rebel he would later pursue and destroy.

In Britain, for example, he belonged to the chartist movement, a nationwide protest of workingmen campaigning for democratic reforms. In America, he was an abolitionist, even working with radical insurrectionist John Brown.

In 1849, after reporting a band of counterfeiters he observed to the local sheriff, he was appointed as Chicago’s first police detective. The following year, he partnered with a local attorney to form the North-Western Police Agency, which later became Pinkerton & Co, and finally Pinkerton National Detective Agency. (Its famous logo was an all-seeing eye with the words “We Never Sleep.” That logo is the source for the term “private eye.”)

During the 1850s, as rail transport expanded across the nation, Pinkerton’s agency solved a series of train robberies of the Illinois Central Railroad. That brought him in contact with two of the most famous figures of the Civil War: Chief Engineer and Vice President George B. McClellan, later to become commander-in-chief of the Army of the Potomac, and company lawyer Abraham Lincoln.

With the start of the Civil War, Pinkerton guarded Lincoln and foiled an assassination plot in Baltimore, Md., while the president-elect was on his way to his inauguration in Washington, D.C.

That led to his appointment as head of the Union Intelligence Service, precursor to the U.S. Secret Service.

Both Pinkerton and his agents worked undercover to gather intelligence, a practice he would use extensively in peacetime.

After the war, he went back to tracking down train robbers. The railroads hired him to capture outlaw Jesse James, a task he was never able to do, even when the railroads cut him off and he pursued James on his own.

His biggest target in the post-war years was the labor movement, despite his own participation in the British workingmen’s group and his clandestine meetings with American revolutionary John Brown.

Both before and after his death in 1884 (at the age of 64), Pinkerton or his agents infiltrated labor unions, dispatched goon squads to intimidate workers and served as guards.

In the 1870s, a Pinkerton agent, James McParland, infiltrated the Molly Maguires coal-mining union in Pennsylvania and smashed the organization, resulting in the hanging of seven of its members.

During the Homestead Strike of 1892, Pinkerton agents were hired by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of robber baron Andrew Carnegie. In the ensuing battle between Pinkerton agents and workers, seven agents and nine steelworkers were killed.

The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

To promote his business, Pinkerton wrote – or had ghost-written – a series of books extolling his exploits.

His early collection of newspaper clippings about his endeavors mushroomed into a database that became the basis for the FBI’s criminal identification records.

Pinkerton was a lifelong atheist.

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