The field of private investigations unofficially stretches back to ancient Egyptian times, where they were more commonly known as spies and were used for a number of espionage, information gathering and political applications. This morphed over the years with more political and espionage based investigations being left to professional spies and things regarding commercial and personal interest was left to a new group of investigators. These investigators would be involved I far less serious and dangerous tasks not fit for the use of a professional spy.
The First Agency
The first officially recorded Private Investigations agency was founded in 1833 in France by a pioneer in the field called François Vidocq who was formerly a soldier, privateer and even criminal. He established an agency called “ Le bureau des renseignments” (Office of Intelligence when translated) however local laws enforcement attempted to shut it down numerous times in its infancy, and in 1842, succeeded in arresting Vidocq on charges of taking money under false pretenses and false imprisonment after successfully solving an embezzlement case. This resulted in a 5 year jail sentence and a fine of 3000 francs, however this judgment was later overturned by the Court of Appeals. Modern investigators have Vidocq to thank for the introduction of record keeping, criminology and ballistics to the investigative field, the first PI to take plaster footprint mounds of impressions found at the crime scene and even went to the extent of inventing invisible ink and a new kind of uneducable bond-issuing paper for use by financial institutions, and is known in modern policing for coming up with theories that are still used by the French police force.
Vidocq was the father of the industry and after his innovation many different agencies popped up all over France and Europe, primarily focused with resolving problems created in the fields of labor and employee disputes after the French Revolution. With early agencies being little more than hired thugs and mercinarys, until the practice spread to the USA. With the practice being introduced into the USA the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, was a private investigations and security company, its creator, Allan Pinkerton, was made something of a legend in this field after disrupting a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln after he was elected to president, the company carried out various services including those not un-similar to those carried out by modern military contractors and providing security services to businesses, farms and institutions across America. At one stage having more active agents than the entire standing army of the United States.
The modern day agencies couldn’t be further from the heavy handed and exploitative methods used in times passed, with current regulations legitimizing the practice and turning it from a back hand, under the counter service to a perfectly legitimate tool to be used when you need answers and they are not forthcoming.