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Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton National... Detective Agency, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on August 25, 1819. Pinkerton emigrated to the United States in 1842 and eventually established a barrelmaking shop in a small town outside of Chicago. He was an ardent abolitionist, and his shop functioned as a "station" for escaped slaves traveling the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North.

Pinkerton's career as a detective began by chance when he discovered a gang of counterfeiters making coins in an area where he was gathering wood. His assistance in arresting these men and another gang led first to his appointment as deputy sheriff of Kane County and, later, as Chicago's first full-time detective.

In 1850, Pinkerton left his job with the Chicago police force to start his own detective agency. One of the first of its kind, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency provided a wide array of private detective services and specialized in the capture of train robbers and counterfeiters. By the 1870s, the agency had the world's largest collection of mug shots and an extensive criminal database. The agency's logo, "the All-Seeing Eye," inspired the phrase "Private Eye."

In 1861, while investigating a railway case, Pinkerton uncovered an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln. The conspirators intended to kill Lincoln in Baltimore during a stop along the way to his inauguration. Pinkerton warned Lincoln of the threat, and the president-elect's itinerary was changed so that he passed through the city secretly at night.

Lincoln later hired Pinkerton to organize a "secret service" to obtain military information in the Southern states during the Civil War. Pinkerton sent agents into Kentucky and West Virginia, and, traveling under the pseudonym "Major E.J. Allen," performed his own investigative work in Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.


 

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