Pinkertons: The Old West's Secret Police That Still Exist Today

Pinkerton on horseback on the Antietam Battlefield in 1862. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency is one of the oldest private investigation firms in America. At its peak, it was also the largest private police agency in the nation's history. Throughout their years, they've been war spies, strikebreakers, gangbusters, and presidential assassination foils, all while doing cool things like assisting the Underground Railroad and hiring the first female detective.

Allan Pinkerton

It all begins with a Scotsman by the name of Allan Pinkerton. Born in Glasgow on August 25, 1819, Pinkerton spent his young life working as a cooper for low pay. He turned to activism and became heavily involved in the Scottish Chartism movement, whose goals were universal male suffrage, better pay, and safer working conditions for the lower class. After some serious run-ins with British troops, he discovered a warrant out for his arrest, so in 1842, he and his wife fled to the United States.