History of private investigative services industry

The private investigation services industry was established the U.S. in 1850 when Allan Pinkerton created the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.1 Best known for uncovering the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton’s agency consisted of former military officers and was employed as an ad hoc security force at a time when official police forces were few and in between.

The establishment of formal police force in American urban jurisdictions in the early 1900s has evolved the private investigative services industry from providing security services to providing information collection and monitoring. With the growth of wealth amongst the middle class in the U.S. during the 1920s, private investigators became accessible to the everyday American.2

Since then, the nature of private investigative work has evolved with rising social issues within the American society such as infidelity, individual crimes and fraud which provide the basis of legal litigations.

Today, the private investigative services industry is comprised of a network of small and medium sized companies. There are over 39,000 private investigators in the U.S. which contribute to the industry’s annual total revenue of approximately US$5 billion.2 Private investigators provide services ranging from domestic and family investigation to legal, insurance and corporate investigation services. Their expertise is in the areas of surveillance, intelligence gathering and performing due diligence services. As the U.S. economy grows, corporate spending budget and personal disposable income are also on the rise – which will contribute positively to the private investigative industry.

Each state has their own regulations on legal requirements for private investigators to practice. Not all states require private investigators to have a license in order to practice, however, some states will require a PI to be an American citizen, to undergo a criminal check and even a clean driving record.

If you are a person who has solid research and investigative skills, is passionate about uncovering the truth, or is interested in a career in surveillance or intelligence gathering, a career as a private investigator may be a possibility for you.

For more information about PI training programs and licensing requirements in your state, please contact the professional associations for PIs as well as government agencies which regulate the licensing of PI professionals.

1. ASG Investigations. History of Private Investigations
2. ASG Investigations. History of Private Investigations
3. Ibis World. Private Detective Services in the US Market Research

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