It is difficult to know exactly when the first Private Investigator appeared.  If we think of Investigators as an arm of the police, then, we have to look back at least as far as the early Egyptian and Sumerians.

It is first mentioned in the Old Testament where the Lord instructs Moses … “Send thou men that they may spy out the land of Canaan”.  The Twelve Spies were a group of Israelite chieftains, one from each of the Twelve Tribes, who were dispatched by Moses to scout out the Land of Israel for 40 days during the time the Jews were in the desert. (Numbers 13:1-16)

Spies have been around for several thousand of years, and therefore, it can be argued that they’ve been the “forerunners” of today’s Investigators.

In 1833 Eugène François Vidocq, a French soldier, criminal and privateer, founded the first known private detective agency, Le bureau des renseignments (Office of Intelligence) and, again, hired ex-cons. Official law enforcement tried many times to shut it down. In 1842 police arrested him in suspicion of unlawful imprisonment and taking money on false pretenses after he had solved an embezzling case. Vidocq later suspected that it had been a set-up. He was sentenced for five years with a 3,000-franc fine but the Court of Appeals released him. Vidocq is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology and ballistics to criminal investigation. He made the first plaster casts of shoe impressions. He created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. His form of anthropometrics is still partially used by French police. He is also credited for philanthropic pursuits – he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.

After Vidocq, the industry was born. Much of what private investigators in the early days were to act as the police in matters that their clients felt the police were not equipped for or willing to do. A larger role for this new private investigative industry to was to act as sudo law men, particularly when dealing with labor and employee issues. The wealthy found that the need to help control large numbers of workers who had developed new ideas as a result of the French Revolution and the freedom of men did not sit well with the wealth resource owners. Some early private investigators were nothing short of mercenaries and or professional military companies helping private entities with problems that could be solved with force or the show of force, usually in foreign countries.

In the US, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was a security guard and detective agency, established in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton. Pinkerton had become famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate then President-Elect Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton’s agents performed services which ranged from the equivalent of both a private military contractor to that of security guards. During the height of its existence, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency, due to the possibility of its being hired out as a “private army” or militia.

During the labor unrest of the late 19th century, businessmen hired Pinkerton guards to keep strikers and suspected unionists out of their factories. The most notorious example of this was the Homestead Strike of 1892, where Pinkerton agents ended up killing several people by enforcing the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, (acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad). The agency’s logo, an eye embellished with the words “We Never Sleep” inspired the term “private eye.

Pinkerton agents were hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno brothers, and the Wild Bunch including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Unblinking eyes or not, the people in this profession have been called a lot of less complimentary things through the years so that the name “Pinkerton” seems to add inadvertently creative.

It was not until the prosperity of the 1920s that the private investigator became a person accessible to the average American. With the wealth of the 20s and the expanding of the middle class came the need for Middle America.

Since then the private detective industry has grown with the changing needs of the public. Social issues like infidelity and unionization have impacted the industry and created new types of work, as has the need for insurance and with it insurance fraud, criminal defense investigations, the invention of low cost listening devices and more.

The early Investigators were part time “keepers of the peace”, at least in the USA.  Many companies employed talented individuals to locate and bring criminals to justice.  In this cause they often took on work that could not be handled by the established police force.




About Police Science Institute

POLICE SCIENCE INSTITUTE is the world leading "on - line" Institute, being solely dedicated to education in the fields of Private Investigation, Homeland Security, Criminal Justice and Police Science specialties. POLICE SCIENCE INSTITUTE Faculty are graduates of Elite Military Units, Intelligence and Security Services, as well as other Professional Disciplines. All have years of practical and teaching experience in their fields. POLICE SCIENCE INSTITUTE is engaged in education and training for the Investigation and Security fields, including (but not limited to) Anti-Terrorism, Executive Protection, Security Management, Corporate Security, Intelligence and much more. http://www.police-institute.com/
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