PINKERTONS, Howard Beach

by Kevin Walsh

Forgotten New York correspondent and President of the Newtown Historical Society Christina Wilkinson found this sign on a telephone pole at 155th Avenue and Huron Street in Howard Beach, just south of the Belt Parkway and a football pass from New Park Pizza. The area was once protected by Pinkertons. But who was Pinkerton?

Scottish immigrant Allan Pinkerton founded the private detective and security company in the 1850s. The company later became the largest private security company in the world and its name was synonymous with “security” well into the 20th century. The company hired women and minorities from its inception.

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency’s luster began to fade when it was hired by business owners to infiltrate unions, place moles in place of workers, and break up the power of trade unions in general. The most famous, or infamous, example was the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania, in which Andrew Carnegie hired strikebreakers and Pinkertons to break up a steelworkers’ strike; a conflict ensued in which several workers and Pinkerton agents were killed.

On the positive side, the Pinkerton detectives were dispatched to arrest many of the famed outlaws of the Old West, including Jesse James, the Wild Bunch and its members Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the Younger Brothers.

By 1940 or so, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had largely supplanted the Pinkerton business and by then the company had desisted from strikebreaking. The agency is still in existence today, though it was acquired in 1999 by an old rival, the Burns Detective Agency. It is known today as the Securitas Security Services USA.

As for the sign, its age is undetermined; I suspected it may have been a prop for a TV show, but Christina found an exact match for sale on Ebay. I’d think this sign dates to the 1940s or 1950s. The area it’s in is relatively remote, and I think it’s just been here all these years. Many neighborhoods hire private security and I believe Howard Beach does the same; a couple of decades ago, John Gotti’s guys filled the bill.

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Brian September 2, 2021 - 10:55 am

I’ve seen a Pinkerton sign in Fresh Meadows or Hillcrest as well, dating back to perhaps the ’60s if I had to make an educated guess. The signs did not look like that one depicted.

There are other signs I’ve seen in the aforementioned areas noting the area is patrolled by marked and unmarked guards but those signs also may have been from the 60s or 70s.

christopher thomas brady September 2, 2021 - 3:34 pm

The sign looks like its plastic so it couldnt come from the 1940s

Zalman Lev September 2, 2021 - 10:40 pm

There are fragments of the same signs on other poles around this area if you roam around on Google Maps. I suppose it’s possible that decades ago the local civic association or a home owners group hired Pinkerton’s for security patrols.

David DiMattina September 6, 2021 - 8:22 am

I believe Pinkerton provided the security at the 64/65 Worlds Fair at Flushing Meadows park


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