Everyone has his or her own idea of who and what a privative investigator is. It could be the idea of Sherlock Holmes solving crimes in old London in the late 1800’s or Magnum Pi on the tropical Hawaiian Islands. These characters create great stories but they are fictional.

Who was the first Private Investigator?

The history of the Private Investigator
The history of the Private Investigator

No one knows for sure but history takes us back to ancient Sumerian and the Egyptian civilization.

The first mention of spying is recorded in the Bible in the Book of Numbers when God told Moses to send men to spy on Canaan. Twelve spies, one from each of their ancestral tribes where dispatched to Canaan to conduct surveillance and report their findings back to Moses.

The first Private Investigation Agency

Private Investigating has existed for thousands of years. Eugene Francois Vidocq founded the first known Agency in 1833. Eugene was a French soldier, privateer and criminal. Men of similarly sketchy backgrounds staffed his Private Investigative Agency. Most of them, criminals. Because of their history with law enforcement of the time, the government attempted to shut them down.

In 1842, Vidocq was arrested and subsequently sentenced to five years imprisonment for a controversial case he investigate and solved. He appealed his conviction and was later released.

Vidocq and his agency were the ones who introduced record keeping, criminology and ballistics to the field of criminal investigations. He also pioneered the practice of creating plaster casts of shoe prints and also invested indelible ink.

Even today, some aspects of Vidocq’s methods of anthropometrics, the study of the human body and its movements, is still in use today. He was also known as a philanthropist who claimed to never have informed on anyone who had stolen do to great needs.

The Evolution of Private Investigators

The private investigation industry came into existence as a response to a specific need: in the olden days, clients went to private investigators with the expectation that they would do work and act as the police in matters where traditional and official law enforcement were ill-equipped or simply unwilling to do. Wealthy owners who effectively utilized and deployed them to resolve labor disputes mostly employed them. Their primary function was to control workers and keep the peace, especially those who had been inspired by the French Revolution. They also did mercenary work, as well as acted as private security.

Private Investigators in the United States

Meanwhile, in the United States, a man named Allan Pinkerton was making a name for himself as a criminal detective. After informing on a band of counterfeiters to the local sheriff of his town, he was appointed in 1849 as the first police detective in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.

A year after that, he partnered with a Chicago lawyer named Edward Rucker and formed the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a company that continues to exist today under the name Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations. It is believed that the term “private eye” originated from Pinkerton’s choice of business insignia: a wide open eye with the caption “We never sleep”.

During the Civil War, Pinkerton became the head of the Union Intelligence Service – the predecessor of the United States Secret Service – and managed to successfully foil an assassination plot targeting Abraham Lincoln. He and his men often took on undercover jobs posing as members of the Confederate army and sympathizers in order to acquire military intelligence.

Today, private investigators fulfill an important role in society. Their services have become invaluable in everything from assisting crime investigations to finding missing persons. With the continuing advancement of technology, private investigation services are continually evolving to serve the public much better ways than ever.