Tuesday, June 28, 2022

History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency By Donna Schlachter -- with Giveaway

Allan Pinkerton. Courtesy Wikipedia

Allan Pinkerton, who founded the agency in the 1850s, came to the United States from Scotland, settling in Chicago. After meeting an attorney, the two decided to set up the North-Western Police Agency to address increased crime in the area and the nation. Originally, investigations were limited to policing employees for business owners to deter theft and embezzlement, but within five years, Allan Pinkerton created his own agency to specifically investigate railroad crimes.

Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy Wikipedia
One of the company’s earliest assignments was to safely deliver President Abraham Lincoln to Washington DC following an assassination threat. 
It was for this case that the first Pink Lady, Kate Warne, was assigned. She successfully delivered the president through a series of disguises and elaborate ruses, including duplicate trains and carriages. In fact, the case was important and difficult enough to require her to stay awake through the entire long journey. Thus began the company’s logo of an open eye and the slogan, “We never sleep.” 

Kate Warne. Courtesy Wikipedia

After the Civil War, the Pinkertons were hired by business owners to keep unions from organizing at their companies. The agency used a variety of operations, including infiltrating unions to gain information; supply guards to employers to keep organizers off the premises and to protect against property damage; bar strikers from properties; and recruiting goon squads to intimidate workers.
In 1871, the US government funded the Department of Justice to detect and prosecute anybody violating federal law. However, the fifty thousand dollars appropriated to fund the department wasn’t enough to form an internal investigation unit, so the Pinkerton National Detective Agency received a sub-contract to perform those duties.
Homestead, PA. Courtesy Wikipedia

In the 1870s, a Pinkerton operative, working undercover as James McKenna, infiltrated the Molly Maguires, a 19th-century secret society of Irish-Americans. He was so successful that the labor organization collapsed.

Frank & Jesse James. Courtesy Wikipedia

The agency was hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and others. A number of notorious criminals were captured with the agency’s assistance. Pinkerton agents were well-armed, so they were often hired to transport money and other high-quality merchandise.  
While in the early years, the company enjoyed support from the public, their activities in strikebreaking earned them the reputation as being involved in violent crackdowns on striking workers, most notably, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

In 1892, the agency was hired to protect Carnegie Steel, owned by Andrew
Carnegie. During this strike, fights broke out between workers and strikebreakers. Three hundred Pinkerton agents were called in to protect the steel mill and strikebreakers. The governor mobilized state law enforcement and the National Guard. Private and government forces broke the strike, and the workers went back to work. When the air cleared, sixteen men lay dead. A large public outcry against their tactics decried the violence and treatment of strikers.

In fact, the Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 specifically says that no individual employed by that agency could work for or contract for the federal government

In the late nineteenth century, the Pinkertons were hired as guards for various natural resource companies, including coal, iron, and lumber, and acted in various disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

I used Kate Warne as the basis for the heroine in my story, Kate. As a young widow in the 1850s, Kate marched into the Pinkerton office and said she wanted a job. Allan Pinkerton thought she meant a clerical job, but no. Kate wanted to be a detective. And she turned out to be one of his best “men”, paving the way for many more female detectives in the coming years.

Kate Warne was a feisty woman with definite ideas of how she wanted her life to go, and so is Kate. While Kate Warne never remarried, I wanted my Kate to balance family and a professional career, a relatively new concept in the 1870s.

Today, most career paths are open to men or women, but that wasn’t always the case.

Giveaway: Answer this question to be entered into a random drawing for an ebook copy of A Pink Lady Thanksgiving – had you ever thought to enter a career or accept a job that would normally have gone to someone of the opposite gender? 
I’ll go first. I once wanted to be a veterinarian in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A teacher told me they didn’t want women officers, and I believed him. I “settled” for a career in accounting.

Please leave your comment along with your email address disguised like this: donna AT livebytheword DOT com

About Donna:
A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.

www.DonnaSchlachter.com Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!




  1. Thanks for the post! I loved your book. I enjoy hearing about how women were successful in the Pinkerton Agency.

  2. Thanks for posting. I've enjoyed several novels where the Pinkertons made an appearance, but I never heard they were involved in strikebreaking. Interesting. I've never been interested in a job typically considered for me, but for a while I inadvertently ran an Auto Upholstery shop. I was much happier when I later went into accounting. I love animals and a career as a veterinarian sounds fulfilling, except for how hard it would be to lose patients.

    1. Thanks, Dana. One thing about accounting -- the numbers don't change :) Unless you get creative.

  3. Hi Donna, I grew up in the era "It's a man's world" and Mom wanted me to be a secretary. Twin friends of mine went into the Army and all of us teens thought that was awful because we thought the Army was "too hard" for girls! Linda and Brenda made it though; Linda made it career, Brenda left after her term was up. I've read a couple of other stories about women in the Pinkerton Agency. Good post! jenningskaren1973 AT gmail DOT com