Chapter

A Genealogy of Undercover Investigation

in New York Undercover

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780226266091
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226266114 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226266114.003.0002
A Genealogy of Undercover Investigation

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Undercover investigation in the United States was not an invention of Progressive social activists. Rather, it was a product of existing techniques that the activists adapted to their unique goals and needs. Undercover investigation dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when private detective agencies were formed to fill (and profit from) the void in the system of public policing. The first private detective agency in the country was the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, who relied on “shadows” — agents who followed suspects and gathered evidence. In New York City, private social reform organizations — including the Committee of Fifteen, the Committee of Fourteen, the People's Institute, and the National Civic Federation — relied on undercover investigators who gathered information which they used to confirm their perceptions or define new forms of social danger, such as the sexual and political behavior of immigrants and African Americans. Undercover investigation played a major role in the development of increasingly sophisticated and far-reaching federal power in the early twentieth century.

Keywords: undercover investigation; United States; social activists; private detective agencies; Pinkerton National Detective Agency; Committee of Fifteen; immigrants; African Americans; social reform; New York City

Chapter.  9069 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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