Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Steampunk Notables: Allan Pinkerton


Allan Pinkerton

Born 1819; Died 1884

Age 43, 5’8", 150 lbs. A thick-set, bearded man, with cool, penetrating blue-grey eyes and a thick Glasswegian accent, dressed in a suit and flat bowler hat.

Advantage: Alertness, Ally Group (Personal staff of operatives), Reputation (Tough, relentless, and reliable, among police and other), Strong Will, Wealthy

Disadvantages: Odious Personal Habit (Blunt, socially awkward); Proud, Reputation (Relentless enemy, among criminals and Confederate Officers and spies), Sense of Duty (to Operatives), Stubbornness, Workaholic

Quirks: Believes in sexual and racial equality, Control Freak, Does not smoke or drink, No great sympathy for labor unions, Voracious reader



Pinkerton and wife, Joan

Biography
Allan Pinkerton was born in The Gorbals, a particularly poor area of Glasgow, Scotland. His father died when he was 10 or 11, forcing him to quit school and go to work, eventually as a cooper’s apprentice. He became a prominent militant and strong-arm man in the Chartist movement, which fought for universal suffrage and broader democracy as a solution to the social injustices of the period. (Incidentally, Chartism was not much concerned with workplace organization to the right to strike, and Pinkerton worked against labor unions later in life, arguing that he was helping working men by opposing the unions).

In 1841, he met his wife, Joan, who he married in 1842; they subsequently emigrated to the New World, first to Canada, then moving down to Illinois. He set up quite a successful cooperage and might have stayed thus employed if he had not noticed a fire-pit on an out-of-the-way island in 1846. Becoming suspicious, he and the local sheriff eventually closed down a counterfeiting operation that was using the island as a base. This led to a succession of law-enforcement jobs, including employment as the first detective on the Chicago police force.


Recreation of Pinkerton "Wanted" posters

Finally, in 1850, he founded a company with lawyer Edward Rucker: The North-West Detective Agency, later renamed Pinkerton and Co. after Rucker left. This organization filled a void in crime-fighting in an era in which there was no overarching national (or even state) police organizations and little cooperation between local authorities. Pinkerton built up a large and successful organization, famous for its relentlessness and with strict standards for the behavior of its operatives and as to what type of cases it would take. His favorite crime-fighting tactic was infiltration: putting undercover agents into the area, sometimes into the criminal organization itself, to obtain the information needed to close the case. The expanding railroads made particular use of his services.

All through his time in America, Pinkerton was a feverent abolitionist, participating in the underground railroad, and giving aid and shelter to such individuals as Frederick Douglas and John Brown. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Pinkerton and his agents applied their skills spying for the Army of the Potomac. Pinkerton became especially close friends of the commander, General McClellan, which caused his eventual return to private detection when McClellan was replaced. He later expressed regret at this, believing that he could have prevented Lincoln’s assassination.

The Pinkerton organization’s successes and reputation grew after the war, particularly fighting such criminal groups as the Reno Gang. But in 1868, Pinkerton suffered a stoke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak for several years. Eventually, through sheer will, he worked his way back to walking 12 miles a day, but his right side was thereafter always weak, his speech slurred, and his handwriting palsied.

In 1871, he took back the reins to his company and led the prosecution of some of its most famous cases, including the pursuit of the James Gang, and the destruction of the Molly McGuires. (The latter is still controversial; some sources claim that there was no organized secret society behind the violence in the affair, and that the Pinkerton agency connived a "frame-up" to destroy a mining union movement). Allan remained in control until he turned over management of the agency to his sons in the 1880’s.


Illustration of the Molly McGuires iu a meeting

Pinkerton in History
Pinkterton’s organization is often considered the first real detective agency, certainly the first in the United States that was more than just a source of security guards. He introduced many techniques that would later become standard in detection, such as the use of "rogues galleries" (now called mug books). He is usually credited with preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln during Lincoln’s initial trip to Washington after his election. The involvement of his agency in union-busting makes him more controversial.

Encountered
Pinkerton is easy to involve in any crime-related plot line, either as an ally, rival, or possibly foe. They could be operatives in his organization, taking on the most famous criminals of that age, while receiving the help of (or contending with the interference) of their boss. (Enjoying fieldwork, Pinkerton often took a personal hand in the cases even when running a large, national organization). Additionally, Pinkerton’s agents included many female operatives.

WW2, Pgs 84-85 (James, H. Hay)
Hay, J. (1999) - Gurps Who's Who II, pg. 84-85, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

Further Reading
MacKay, James: Allan Pinkerton: The first private eye
Wormser, Richard: Pinkerton: America’s first private eye

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