History of Security in the United States Essay

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Security in America has evolved from the time of the first settlers to todays well-trained forces. Factors leading to the significant growth of private security from pre-Civil War to post World War II consisted of a lack of public police and large monetary loss by private industry. Today, security is global and faces challenges and changes, with increases in terrorism and technology crimes. It must maintain a high level of professionalism and maintain technological innovation remain a respected industry.

History of Security in the United States
Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth century saw the private security industry fill in many of the gaps left by public law enforcement in both manpower and ingenuity. The development of public police forces was slow in the infancy of the United States. In the latter half of the 1800s, police departments were fragmented, decentralized and often corrupt, creating a need for private security. The American frontier saw an extreme shortage of law enforcement, as they had to resort to deputizing civilians and forming posses. Citizens often had to resort to vigilante justice due to a lack of law enforcement. In 1850, Henry Wells and William Fargo established American Express and Wells Fargo cargo companies and in 1851 Allen Pinkerton established the first national private security and investigations service (Ortmeirer, 2009, pg. 10).

Pinkerton provided security and investigative service to the railroad, offered private detective services and was actually the intelligence arm of the Union Army during the first half of the Civil War. In 1853 August Perry patented the first burglar alarm followed by Edwin Holmes in 1858, who produced the first central station burglar alarm. That same year, Washington Perry Brinks introduced the armored carriage for the transportation of valuables and money (Ortmeirer, 2009, pg. 10).

Twentieth Century

The quelling of labor unrest brought about a poor reputation to private security leading up to the Great Depression. Decades earlier, industries such as manufacturing, transportation and mining turned to agencies like Pinkerton for not only asset protection, but also to combat labor violence and break strikes. There were numerous violent incidents involving strikes resulting in civilian injury, deaths and job losses. One incident in particular was the Homestead Strike of 1892 in Pennsylvania, which culminated in a gun battle between Pinkerton agents and the strikers (Lipson, 1988). Incidents such as this eventually led to private security being viewed as Knights of Capitalism by the public. Security companies were banned from carrying weapons and crossing state lines to break strikes in some states (Joh, 2006). There was a decline in the employment of private security during the Great Depression. According to The HUB, There seems to be some controversy as to when the first proprietary security forces arose, but many sources attribute Henry Ford as the man who refined in house security to factory work.

As the automobile gained popularity so the industries providing the necessary materials for the factories producing them across the nation needed and utilized private security personnel. With the high unemployment and possibility of crime due to the Great Depression, private security further embedded itself within industry (Hub pages, http://dyonder.hubpages.com/hub/The-History-of-Private-Security). There was an expansion of private security leading up to and during World War II due to infrastructure, military and industrial security concerns. Post World War II saw an increase in the professionalism of private security, as returning veterans with military police experience began to seek employment in the security industry. Anti-espionage procedures established by the government during World War II carried over into the Cold War era, with the government insisting on a quality security force and plans, to protect defense contractors and government assets.

The private security industry followed the governments lead, thus entering the era of the security manager (Hub pages, http://dyonder.hubpages.com/hub/The-History-of-Private-Security). The security industry increased in size in the mid twentieth century, as did the crime rate and police were unable to protect private property. Many organizations realized the value of protecting their personnel and property during this time. In 1955, the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) was formed and today is the worlds largest organization of security professionals. ASIS continues to formulate security policy and direct security programs in a vast number of businesses, industries and government operations (Ortmeirer, 2009, pg. 11-12). In 1970, private security continued to grow and matched the number of police personnel at 500,000.

In 1976, the Task Force Report on Private Security was published and it was addressed for the first time that private security was an essential element to public safety. The Task Force recommended that the private sector be encouraged to nurture and improve the quality of security services and work with law enforcement to fight crime. This created an environment that saw the security industry continue to grow due to concerns over increased crime and limited law enforcement resources. By 1991, the number of security personnel had nearly tripled that of law enforcement and by the year 2000, private security personnel numbers rose to two million, clearly showing private security is the primary protective service (Ortmeirer, 2009, pg. 6-7, 13).


The private security industry has made giant steps since the nineteenth century. It is clear from history that the private security industry must continue to complement the public police forces by providing innovative and needed support to industry and government. It must maintain and constantly improve upon its procedures and training, to keep the respect of the public, which it currently commands. It must above all remain one step ahead in todays technological world, as M. Lipson (1988) stated, The history of the ancient craft of private security may be illustrative of opportunities for those of the industry with foresight (Lipson, 1988). It is crucial private security continue with its current expertise in antiterrorism and computer security operations. It is also imperative private security continue to foster the close, post-911relationships that were developed with law enforcement, from federal to state to local police agencies, to successfully move into the future.

Joh, E.E. (2006). The Forgotten Threat: Private Policing and the State. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 13(2), 364. Lipson, M. (1988). Private Security: A Retrospective. Annals Of The American Academy Of Political & Social Science, 49811-22. Ortmeirer, P.J. (2009). Introduction to Security. Prentice Hall. The Hub (2009). (Hub pages, http://dyonder.hubpages.com/hub/The-History-of-PrivateSecurity).

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