A History of Private Investigations in the U.S.

The history of private investigators in the United States originates with Allan Pinkerton. The term, “private eyes,” got it’s start, with his company slogan, “we never sleep.” Pinkerton’s agents were famous for tracking western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno brothers, and Butch Cassidy and the  Sundance Kid.
Allan Pinkerton originally immigrated to this country in 1843. By 1850, he had founded the Chicago-based Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which would quickly become the industry’s largest private security companies. Pinkerton became famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate then President-Elect Abraham Lincoln.
In addition to tracking down and apprehending criminals, the early private security industry performed many other duties now associated with federal and state law enforcement: guarding interstate railroad and stagecoach shipments, investigating crimes and providing security advice to banks and other businesses that were frequent targets of outlaws. Much of this work diminished when federal and local agencies improved their law enforcement capabilities shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

Common Myths about Being a Private Investigator

In general, there are many stereotypes about the field of private investigations. Many of these notions come from the movies, social media, and from books. While these views are entertaining, in many respects, they’re also far from true. Here are are some of the most common myths people have about what it’s like to be an Investigator:

  1. Everyday is filled with suspense and action: The movies make it seem like investigators live a life of adventure. Realistically, most of the time spent is on gathering information or documenting it. Any surveillance involves a lot of waiting and investigators can spend a lot of time on paperwork and evidence that bears some relevance on a particular case.
  2. They have the same authority that the police have: Investigators must obey the same laws that civilians do.  They cannot impersonate law enforcement and cannot trespass on private property. They are able to make arrests, but only in the same capacity that the general public is able to make citizen arrests.
  3. They all drive fancy cars: In reality, driving a high powered sportscar would only draw attention and compromise an investigator doing surveillance.
  4. They lack compassion: In reality, investigators, in the course of their lives, have been through similar things that their clients have gone through. They understand that their clients are going through difficult situations and they show patience, focus on the humanity in their work, and adhere to a core set of ethical standards.
  5. Investigators put together the comprehensive background reports that you can purchase for $20 online:
    Many people who order comprehensive background reports online may think that these inexpensive reports are usually compiled by an investigator with basic information that is available online. PIs are usually not at the other end of the transaction actively compiling information; instead, that info is generated by a computer. When you purchase this inexpensive report, you are actually just paying a computer to do work you could search for yourself.