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The Evolution of Private Security Guards

Ancient History | Securelion Security

Ancient History

The need to protect oneself and to protect the community around our families is a basic human necessity. In fact, it’s a need that we can see across almost all animal species. We see male lions roam their territory to protect the pride, elephants will gather around their young. You wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find a video of a dog protecting its owner. There have always been dangers posed by others. There have always been the people who make it their duty to protect others.

Protectors are always necessary whenever a group of people grows too large to police itself. In small communities, often the social pressure would be enough to ensure that people restrained certain impulses. These would be harmful to the community and others. People need the community to survive, and an offense against the community would result in punishment. 

Naturally, communities will often grow, and they’ll build themselves into something larger than the few family groups that started them. Communities become cities, and cities will often harbor dangerous people. 

History Of Protectors

Throughout history, in almost every culture across the entire planet, you can find examples of police and protectors. They might not be police in the modern sense, but they perform the same role within the community. These were the watchmen, and their history is thousands of years old. There are references to watchmen in the Bible. Private security was a resource that Ancient Egyptian nobles would use. The Pharaohs and nobility would hire people from reputable backgrounds to protect their valuables and even pay them to guard their tombs. 

It wouldn’t be until after the 5th Dynasty that these independent guards would start to form an informal police force. They were tasked with protecting public spaces like markets and parks. Some depictions show these police using both dogs and monkeys to apprehend criminals. This group would later be disbanded, as the old kingdom collapsed and the First Intermediate Period of Egypt began. During this time, the central government was weak. Policing and security would fall back into the hands of the nobility and well of private citizens as a result. 

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British Influence

This same type of security, and pseudo police forces, would be common throughout the rest of the world as well. If a person had the means, and something of value to protect, then they would hire people to protect it. We can trace the roots of American security and our police force back to the British, and the Watchmen.


Watchmen was primarily used inside larger cities, most notable of these was London. This was a result of a larger population and poor artificial light in the evening. London has even been called, The City of Shadows. The poor lighting at night made it easy for criminals to hide under the cover of darkness, and the lack of police made it easy for them to operate without interference. London needed something. Watchmen and curfews would be the solution that the city would adopt.

The Watchmen would perform several duties during their shift. They were law enforcement, firefighters, and would take part in the recovery of stolen goods. The citizens of London weren’t allowed out after dark or they would likely be arrested and thrown in jail for suspicious behavior. At least that was the case if you were poor or had little influence. The nobility could still walk the streets at night and do as they liked.

You might be surprised to learn that the watchmen weren’t paid for their efforts. It was instead seen as a civic duty, each household had to offer a man who would serve a shift as a watchman. There was a rotation in place. It was what everyone expected of you at the time. That didn’t stop some houses from failing to participate personally. Instead, families that could afford to do so often hired someone to fill their place when the rotation came for them.

British Police Force

A British police force would not be created until the ordinance of 1233. It was now required for cities to have an appropriate number of watchmen, ready to take up arms in order to keep the peace. The number was based on the population of the city. King Edward 1 would build a uniformed police force, made up of watchmen who carried decorated battle maces as a signal of the office, in 1279. The practice wouldn’t be widely adopted, however.

The Watchmen would remain compelled volunteers until the 1690s. The authorities at the time were attempting to replace the Robinsons Act and establish a watch that was not a volunteer force. There would still be no official police force in Britain until the 1820s. Before then, the job fell to the parish watchmen.

Private Security in America | Securelion Security

The Americas

Naturally, the systems the American colonies would adopt followed in the footsteps of the British. Watchmen would be in the cities, instead of a centralized police force established by the state. Boston would be the first city to establish a night-watch in 1631. The other colonies would follow suit over the next few years. This would continue to be the way forward for America until 1884. This would mark the Municipal Police Act in New York City. The act would bring about the unification of laws and establish a centralization of power. Eventually, this leads us to our modern police force.

There was a problem though, during this time American was expanding. Westward expansion and rapid growth, often outpaced the government’s ability to oversee and protect the interest of the people. Private security was the only way for many to fill the gap, where police were either completely absent, or they were not enough to keep valuable interest safe. A man named Allan Pinkerton would step in and create one of the most prolific and far-reaching private security companies in American history.

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton wasn’t American born. He was Scottish, born in 1819 in Glasgow. Allan dropped out of school at the age of 10 but was a ravenous reader, as such most of his education was self-taught throughout his life. He was active in the Scottish Chartist movement (a male suffrage movement that wanted fair elections and equal voting rights for all men). This would not be the last time Allan Pinkerton would find himself involved in movements and politics.

Pinkerton would immigrate to America in 1842, and eventually settle down with his wife, about 50 miles north of Chicago on the Fox River. He built a cabin but wasn’t about to settle down and live a quiet life. In 1844 he would start working with local abolitionist leaders. His cabin even became a stop on the underground railroad.

As the story goes, Allan Pinkerton first became interested in detective work because of an encounter with counterfeiters. Although we don’t know what exactly happened, he would come to believe that the group was affiliated with a notorious gang, Banditti of the Prairie. He followed them for some time, observing their movements until he was certain of their crimes and affiliations. Only then did he report his findings to the local sheriff. With the information, Pinkerton provided, the sheriff was able to make an arrest of the counterfeiters. Eventually, this leads to Pinkerton being appointed the first Police Detective in Chicago.

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

In 1850 Pinkerton and his associate Edward Rucker formed the North-Western Police Agency. Unlike the name suggests in the modern sense, the company was privately owned. The name would be changed multiple times, before settling on the name that would be prolific, Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The slogan for the company was underneath a logo of a wide-open eye and it read “We never sleep.” 

The company would do nothing but grow for the next 10 years. They served mostly with the railroads, protecting them from the dangers of the wild west, and investigating crimes that took place in a land where there was no police. The agency would solve a series of cases that would put Pinkerton into contact with Abraham Lincoln’s lawyer, and by extension, the President himself. 

During Civil War

Given his history of working with the underground railroad, it’s pretty easy to guess what side Pinkerton chose to fight on when war erupted in America. During the Civil War, he would be the head of the Union Intelligence Service. Pinkerton even prevented the assassination of President Lincoln during the early years of the war. Pinkerton wasn’t the only one serving in the war. His agency would serve the northern states as well.

Allan Pinkerton even went undercover behind enemy lines. During the summer of 1861, he traveled all over the deep south, under the alias Major E.J Allan. The focus, at the time, was on confederate installations and other fortifications, as well as other military plans. The work he did was invaluable. He barely escaped in Memphis after having been discovered as a spy, and almost lost his life. The work that Pinkerton and his agents performed at the time is comparable to modern US Counterintelligence special agents. Pinkerton’s successor in government would go on to form the Federal Secret Service. 

After Civil War

After the war, Pinkerton would focus on growing his company. By this point, they had earned a reputation for their outstanding work. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was even hired to track down Jesse James. The chase would take some time, and the railroads eventually pulled funding for the search. Blood was already involved in this case. A Pinkerton Agent who was working undercover had been killed by Jesse James. The Agency would continue the search for as long as they could but eventually were forced to give up the search. This was largely considered the agency’s biggest failure. 

Despite this, the Agency just kept growing bigger and bigger, in part because of westward expansion. The government could not keep up with the rising demand for detectives and police forces. in 1871, Congress granted the DOJ $50,000 (Roughly $1.8 million adjusted for inflation) to form a sub-organization for “The detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law.” It was not enough to meet the need, so the DOJ reached out to Pinkerton National Detective Agency and contracted them to fill the void. This would continue until 1893 when the Anti-Pinkerton Act would be put into law. This act limited the federal government’s ability to contract private investigators. 

Spotless Reputation Of Pinkerton

Unfortunately, the Pinkerton Agency would not always have a spotless reputation. In 1872 the Spanish Government would hire Pinkerton National Detective Agency to help suppress a rebellion in Cuba. It’s largely believed that Allan Pinkerton was unaware of this. The rebellion was in favor of freeing the slaves in the area, and the Agency is on the side of the government would go against Pinkerton’s long history of anti-slavery. 

Allan Pinkerton would die in Chicago in 1884. The cause of his death is still unknown, and there’s a lot of speculation surrounding it. Some say that he tripped and bit his tongue, later dying of gangrene. Others say that he died of a stroke. Still, some say Malaria. Regardless, he was a man that would leave a lasting legacy. He has been inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. 

After Death of Allan Pinkerton

After his death, his agency continued to operate and grow. Tarnishing the image would continue. The company became a major force against the Labor Unions in the US and Canada. This, despite Allan Pinkerton’s very public support of labor unions during his life, dating all the way back to his time in Scotland. 

Even with the tarnished image, the legacy of Allan Pinkerton and his detective agency was felt for decades. It is still felt to this day. There was a time when Pinkerton was a slang name for a private detective. You can see the Pinkertons popping up in much of our historical pop culture, from video games to TV shows, and even taking part in the inspiration of the Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear. 

Modern Security | Securelion Security

Change in the Pinkerton National Detective Agency

There’s no doubt that without Allan Pinkerton and without the Pinkerton National Detective Agency that private security, and even our own police force, would look very different. Every modern private security company in one way or another owes a great deal to Allan Pinkerton. He was the one who started it all. 

Now you won’t find security guard companies with quite the same reach and influence that the Pinkerton Detective agency had. Even the Pinkerton Detective agency, which is currently a subsidiary of Securitas AB, doesn’t have the same reaching impact. There are more laws and regulations than before, and the police are often capable of handling the majority of law enforcement. 

If you’re ever in need of additional security for your business, a neighborhood, or even a personal guard, then you can turn to one of the many reliable security guard companies in the Bay Area that follow in Pinkerton’s footsteps. You can often find a security guard company that fits your exact needs and location. There are security guard companies in Los Angeles, security guard companies in Newark CA, and if you need a security guard service in San Francisco you can find it. The world has changed drastically, and the methods used may not be what they used to be. The need for security is still present and palpable. 

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February 3, 2020 6:52 pm