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New York UndercoverPrivate Surveillance in the Progressive Era$
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Jennifer Fronc

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780226266091

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226266114.001.0001

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A Genealogy of Undercover Investigation

A Genealogy of Undercover Investigation

Chapter:
(p.11) ONE A Genealogy of Undercover Investigation
Source:
New York Undercover
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226266114.003.0002

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

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