Spies for Hire: Advertising by the Pinkerton Agency
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Spies for Hire: Advertising by the Pinkerton Agency

By the early 1890s, the 2,000 active agents and 30,000 reserves of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency were larger than the standing army of the United States. In the 1880s, the Pinkertons provided services for management in 70 different labor disputes. The agency’s success depended on both armed guards and the clandestine efforts of secret operatives like James McParlan, who had infiltrated Irish anthracite miners’ organizations in the mid 1870s. McParlan’s testimony (which historians have largely dismissed as fabricated) at the sensational “Molly Maguire” trial of 1876 helped send ten men to the gallows and broke the miners’ union for a generation. This advertisement from the 1890s touted the prowess of the Pinkerton detective agency in maintaining law and order and played on corporate fears of “dissatisfaction among the laboring classes” to build business.

Sirs: We take this method of calling your attention to the advantages of private police patrol in case you are at any time in need of such services.

The Pinkerton Preventive Patrol was organized by the late Allan Pinkerton in 1850, it being the first uniformed police patrol in the city of Chicago, and from that time to date has had under its charge as watchmen all the banks and nearly all the wholesale and large retail business houses in Chicago. The members of this force are selected for their general aptitude for police duty, and are under strict discipline and in charge of experienced officers who have been trained to the business.

We are therefore prepared to furnish uniformed men whenever required, by the day, week, or month, for day or night duty, and we respectfully call the attention of those in charge of excursions, proprietors of public resorts, railroad and all other corporations who have to deal with large numbers of patrons or disaffected or striking employees, to the advantage of our patrol system.

A daily written report is furnished to our patrols, when required, of any irregularities or occurrences transpiring during the time our officers are on duty.

The Pinkerton Preventive Patrol has furnished the police for the Hocking Valley Coal and Iron Company of Ohio during their recent protracted strike; Chicago, Wilmington and Vermillion Coal Company of Illinois; Menominee Mining Company of Menominee, Mich.; Muskegon lumber merchants of Muskegon, Mich., lumber merchants of Saginaw City, Mich.; Rochester and Pittsburg Railroad and Coal and Iron Company of Pennsylvania; Burden Iron Company of Troy, N. Y.; and Troy Malleable Iron Works. Under its supervision was organized the first coal and iron police force in Schuylkill County, Pa., which was instrumental to a great extent by aiding our detectives in suppressing the Molly Maguires throughout the coalfields of Pennsylvania and preserving order there during the railroad riots of 1877.

The above list only comprises a few of the many corporations and individuals where the Pinkerton Patrol preserved order and protected property and employees who were willing to work while strikes were in progress.

Each season the Pinkerton Patrol furnishes the entire police protection for Manhattan Beach, Coney Island, N.Y.; Starins Glen Island (Long Island Sound), N.Y.; Coney Island Jockey Club, Sheepshead Bay, Long Island; the Rockaway Steeplechase Association, Cedarhurst, Long Island, N.Y.; the Washington Park Club and West Side Driving Park, Chicago; and the Illinois State Fair.

The Pinkerton Preventive Patrol is connected with Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, and is under the same management.

Corporations or individuals desirous of ascertaining the feeling of their employees, and whether they are likely to engage in strikes or are joining any secret labor organizations with a view of compelling terms from corporations or employers, can obtain on application to the superintendent of either of the offices, a detective suitable to associate with their employees and obtain this information.

At this time, when there is so much dissatisfaction among the laboring classes and secret labor societies are organizing throughout the United States. We suggest whether it would not be well for railroad companies and other corporations, as well as individuals who are extensive employers of labor, to keep a close watch for designing men among their own employees, who, in the interest of secret labor societies, are inducing their employees to join these organizations and eventually to cause a strike. It is frequently the case that by taking a matter of this kind in hand in time and discovering the ringleaders and dealing promptly with them serious trouble may be avoided in the future.

The reputation gained by the Agency and Patrol in the past will be a guarantee that any detective or officer furnished by us will be competent in every respect to discharge the duties required of him.

Watchmen for stores, docks, shipping, etc., etc., can be obtained at reasonable rates for permanent or special watching on application at either of the offices, which are connected by telephone.

Yours respectfully,


General Superintendent East Division, New York.


General Superintendent West Division, Chicago, Ill

Source: Advertisement reprinted in Senate Report 1280, 52nd Congress, 2nd Session: Investigation of Labor Trouble (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1892).

See Also:Telling Secrets Out of School: Siringo on the Pinkertons