The field of private investigation has a long and interesting history. In fact, the first known private investigator, Francois-Eugene Vidocq, was born in 1775.
History of Private Investigators
The field of private investigation has a long and interesting history. In fact, the first known private investigator, Francois-Eugene Vidocq, was born in 1775. Vidocq started his own private investigation business, Le Bureau de Renseignements, when he was 59 years old. He had, however, performed several private investigations prior to this time and it is said that his personal journals of his countless investigations inspired many classical authors, including Dickens, Doyle, and Poe.
The first known American private investigator was Allen Pinkerton. Pinkerton became a private investigator in 1850, after serving on the Chicago Police Department for 3 years. Pinkerton is best known for having prevented President Lincoln’s assassination when he was on his way to his presidential inauguration. Lincoln later asked Pinkerton to create the Secret Service, which has remained in existence ever since.
Since then, private investigation began booming in America. Among others, W.H. Triplit organized the Ohio Secret Service in 1883. By 1917, the Sherman Detective Agency, Inc. began operation. The most renowned detective in America, however, was probably Harold K. “Hal” Lipset. Often referred to as the “Old Master,” Lipset was a bugging expert known around the world. He was capable of successfully hiding bugs in inconspicuous places – even hiding one transmitter inside a martini olive!
The first private investigator to be immortalized as an action figure was J.J. “Jay” Armes. Armes, who lost both of his hands when he was 12 years old while playing with dynamite, also became a well-known private investigator around the world. He was responsible for finding and rescuing actor Marlon Brando’s kidnapped son. In addition, his renown earned him a role in a segment of the television show Hawaii Five-O, further catapulting the popularity of private investigation.
Private Investigator Training
Becoming a private investigator was becoming such a popular field, that by 1915 the C.T. Ludwig Detective Training Correspondence School opened its doors. For $7.50, a junior detective could receive 10 lessons in private investigation. Furthermore, students of the school received a ruler and a 265-page book entitled “Laws the Detective Should Know.” Those who completed the course received a gold and enameled Official Badge of Membership of the school.
In 1943, Arthur H. Farrar published “Criminal Code and G-Man Mastery Booklet.” This 61-page book contained instructional stories, useful information, and case descriptions. Many more books in the field of private investigation soon followed.
Tools of the Private Investigator
Of course, no private investigator would be complete without gadgets. The first known private investigation gadget dates back to 1889. This glass magnifier was 3 inches round and 4/8 of an inch thick. It was handed out as a souvenir at the 1889 International Detective’s Conference in St. Louis, where private investigators from around the world gathered to share stories and secrets from the field of private investigation.
In 1905, the first camera disguised as a watch hit the private investigation market. This camera was capable of taking 12 pictures. By 1909, the hidden camera had evolved into a pocket watch camera. The first “cigarette pack” camera became available in the 1940’s.
More advances in hidden camera technology were made in the 1950’s. In 1954, a 16-exposure camera that looked like a cigarette lighter became available. Then, in 1955, private investigators were able to purchase the first camera disguised as a pen. This camera was capable of taking 18 pictures and the pictures were of a much greater quality than the original 1905 watch camera.
Taking pictures, however, is not the only job of a good detective. Therefore, the first wire recorder was unveiled in Chicago in the 1950’s, as well. This portable recorder made it possible for the private investigator to record interviews in order to transcribe them later.
In the mid to late 1950’s, these recorders evolved into much smaller versions that could be worn as body wires or placed as bugs in specific locations. The transmissions were sent to a regular radio band, which allowed anyone to hear what was being sent by the recorder.
Since these times, private investigator tools have continued to improve. From voice changing mechanisms, to bug detectors, to telephone taps, the private investigator has an entire arsenal tools available to him.
Private Investigation Today
Today, private investigators still maintain an aura of intrigue and fascination by the public. Many view private investigators as quick-witted loners who never back down from a fight.
In reality, most private investigators are well-educated individuals who find satisfaction in solving a case that others thought was unsolvable. While they may tend to be loners due to their long work hours, many private investigators do have loving families and friends.
In addition, most states enforce regulations on private investigators, including schooling requirements and background checks. Private investigators are not “above the law,” they simply understand the law and how to work within its constraints. Therefore, becoming a private investigator takes hard work, dedication, and the desire to learn, not unlike their early counterparts from the 1700’s.
Famous Private Detectives of the Decades
There are plenty of fictional private detectives that we base our idealism about private detectives on.