The History of Private Investigators and the Investigation Trade


Private investigators have been around for more than 300 years. The idea of investigation for the private person originally began in Paris, France around 1833 when 59-year-old Francois Eugene Vidocq, a French soldier, sometime criminal and privateer started the first private investigation agency called “Le bureau des Renseignments” or Office of Intelligence.

Before going into business, Vidocq conducted a few private investigation cases on his own, often disguising himself when following someone though the streets of Paris. His sordid past allowed him to understand the criminal mind and bring to justice those who had committed a crime.

Vidocq began hiring from the Paris criminal element of ex-cons. Having personally escaped from jail a few times in his life, he understood that the best detectives are ones who know how the criminal thinks.

Despite his checkered past, Vidocq was the first to use forensic science when he used plaster to make casts of foot and shoe prints. He also created indelible ink and bond paper, which is almost impossible to alter.

During the early years of private investigations, their role was to work with wealthy employers to keep them in line and stop talk of more wages and less hours. Later, private investigation firms became involved with social issues, taming the wild west outlaws and getting involved with investigations concerning marriage infidelity.

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

In the United States, private investigations originally began with Allen Pinkerton who became a detective after having worked in the Chicago police department for several years, beginning in 1850. Allen Pinkerton is most remembered in history as being the person who stopped an assassinations plot against the newly elected president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency not only acted as a detective agency, but sometimes served as security guards and bodyguards as well. A famous incident involving the Pinkerton Agency occurred in the late 19th century when businessmen hired the agency to keep unions out of factories leading to the Homestead Strike of 1892. The situation gained widespread attention when several people were killed by Pinkerton agents when they used force against workers who were striking for better conditions.

Pinkerton agents also tracked the infamous outlaw bank robber and theif Jessie James and other outlaws including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Later, the Pinkerton agency created the Secret Service to serve as guards for the President of the United States.

A more modern detective by the name of Jay J. Armes become widely known when he rescued Marlin Brando’s son from kidnappers. Armes detective agency was The Investigators and The Investigators Security Force aimed at mobile patrols. Now the detective agency is involved in domestic government contracts and industrial security management, which includes industrial espionage.

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