The Pinkertons came from the Firth of Tay, Dundee, Scotland. William Alexander Pinkerton, born around 1740 and the first to come to America, was killed by Indians in 1793 while he was working in the fields (somewhere in Pennsylvania) with his wife looking on in horror. Alexander, his son (1783–1837), was born in Allegheny County, and became a cabinet maker. After living in New Castle, Pennsylvania for a while, he took his family on a flatboat down the Ohio river and up the Muskingham, and settled in a new town called McConnelsville, Ohio. He was one of the pioneers. His son, David (1817–1894) was an Ohio district court judge, postmaster, and first Treasury Department comptroller in Washington DC. David died in Washington DC in 1894.
David Pinkerton’s oldest son, John W. Pinkerton (1843–1922) fought in the Civil War. John W. was a wholesale grocer in Zanesville, Ohio after the war. From there, he developed a new chewing tobacco formula and founded Pinkerton Tobacco Company in 1887. He incorporated the company with 945 shares of stock in 1901.
It was an interesting time in history because concurrently, the notorious monopolist, James B. Duke, of North Carolina, was aggressively buying up the tobacco companies and putting everyone who was not with him out of business. Duke and his “Tobacco Trust,” the American Tobacco Company, determined to own the entire tobacco market, didn’t seem concerned whatsoever with breaking the laws of the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, an anti-monopoly law that was enacted the same year he incorporated his business. Duke was big trouble for everyone in the tobacco business, from the growers to the factories, including the Pinkerton Tobacco Company.
How the Pinkertons came to Toledo
I don’t remember this ever being a family story, but some very unsavory monopolistic circumstances led to the Pinkertons’ move to Toledo. It all began in 1903 when George Monypeny, the Pinkerton Tobacco Company’s treasurer, embezzled a sizable amount of money from the company. This made John W. so mad that he sold majority shares of stock to the Continental Tobacco Company in order to get the Monypenys out of his business. (There were four of those damn Monypenys!) Unfortunately, Continental was owned by the American Tobacco Company.
In January 1907 John W. was summoned to New York to meet with the American Tobacco Company, where he was told that they were forcing control of his company – John W. was jaw-droppingly shocked.
And so, from that date on, the American Tobacco Company dictated to John W. what the Pinkerton Tobacco Company sold, where they sold it, what size packages they sold, and the price they sold it for. It was all for the purpose of putting companies out of business or forcing them to sell to James B. Duke’s American Tobacco Company.
As a result of Duke’s manipulating monopolistic schemes, J. Frank Zahm, president of his own tobacco company in Toledo, was forced out of the tobacco business in 1907. Mr. Zahm was so troubled that one afternoon in his office at his factory (located behind the Swayne Field ballpark that was at Bancroft and Detroit Ave.), he put a bullet through his head.
14 months later, in 1909, this same factory building, which is now a U-Haul storage facility, became the new headquarters for the Pinkerton Tobacco Company. John W.’s oldest son, Sherwood Pinkerton Sr. (1867–1939) managed the factory to start. They manufactured chewing tobacco and Sunshine cigarettes.
How terrible the casualties of the greedy monopolist. And to be forced into submitting to their whims. We can certainly relate to that in 2021, can’t we? Yet back then, perhaps John W. could see the light at the end of the tunnel. (If only we could see “the light” today…) The anti-trust lawsuits had been making their way through the courts, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt’s election in 1904. Finally, in 1911, by order of the Supreme Court, James B. Duke’s monopoly, the American Tobacco Company was divided into three companies, and Pinkerton Tobacco became a subsidiary of Liggett-Myers. John W. resumed control of his company, and the monopoly-busting of 1911 led way for the booming economy of the Roaring Twenties.
A family business
When the family moved to Toledo in 1909, Sherwood’s oldest son, Sherwood Pinkerton Jr. (1893–1980) was 16. They lived at 2510 Parkwood. He graduated from Toledo Central High School and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in chemical engineering. Sherwood served in the Ordnance department of the U.S. Army during WWI. While stationed in Washington D.C., he met Helen Moyer. (“The first time I saw her in 1918, my inner voice said, she’s the one,” Sherwood would tell us.) They got married in 1919, and lived at 2901 Parkwood Avenue in Toledo until they built a house at 1978 Richmond Road in the new neighborhood of Westmoreland in 1927. They had four creative daughters – one who became the inspiration for this very website, artistsoftoledo.com, my mother – Audrey Pinkerton Gentieu (1922–2009).
Sherwood Jr. ran the family business, becoming president in 1939, and retiring in 1959. The company subsequently moved to new facilities in Owensboro, Kentucky. John W.’s greatest legacy to his family, his chewing tobacco company, manufacturing a product barely known these days, managed to sustain three generations of the Pinkertons, all because monopolies were busted in 1911.
Sherwood Jr. had a blessed life, seemingly free of the business problems his grandfather faced. Besides personally enjoying the chewing tobacco he cooked up and brought to market, Sherwood Jr. and his family embraced the finer side of life, such as art, and roses. John W. bequeathed to my mother and my grandparents a life of grace and happiness. In turn, my Pinkerton grandparents were, to me, a rock-steady source of security and affection.
John W. would say to his grandson, Sherwood Jr., that retirement isn’t good for some people, if you lack activities you will shrivel up.
Sherwood proved to be excellent at retirement, as he cultivated roses for 17 years after he retired, and for at least 31 years before. Sherwood was Toledo’s first Rosarian. He gave up his rose garden in 1976, when, in their eighties, he and Helen decided they had to downsize and move into an apartment. Their health declined after that. Helen died on November 22, 1978, and Sherwood, who could barely live without her, died on New Year’s Day, 1980.
The Pinkertons lived in an elegant Georgian Revival house on Richmond Road. They created four beautiful gardens in their artfully landscaped bi-level yard, including a formal rose garden, an informal rose garden, a shade garden, a goldfish pond, a fountain, and a greenhouse. They had a Florida Room in the house. Their house was filled with never-ending curiosities and memorabilia from their long lives, stuck in the rafters, in the attic, in every corner, nook and cranny. It was a treasure hunt for their 13 grandchildren to explore.
The Pinkertons held a moving sale in 1976 and moved out of the house.
In their living room was a neoclassical marble statue of Hebe, the goddess of beauty and youth and wife of Hercules. Hebe, in case you are interested, brought the nectar (the drink of eternal youth and immortality) to the feasts.
The statue came from Italy, a family heirloom passed on to Sherwood by his Great Aunt Julia who picked out the statue with her U.S. Ambassador husband while on an overseas trip. Julia died and bequeathed it to Sherwood in 1911, the same year of the federal trust-busting that would benefit the Pinkerton family for the rest of their lives. Next to the fireplace in their living room, Hebe appeared nonchalantly and purely incidentally in family photographs over the fifty years they occupied the house.
Then one day Hebe was picked up by moving men and shipped to my Aunt Julia, in Portland, Oregon. I captured that moment, one of my first black and white photographs, because the moment felt like a dichotomy, my grandfather letting her go.
Incidentally, John W. Pinkerton’s sister, Elizabeth, married a Brumback whose brother married a Carey, whose daughter married Lyman Spitzer Sr., the parents of Lyman Spitzer, the famous astonomer, who married Doreen Canaday, daughter of Ward Canaday and Mariam Coffin. You never know what you will find in your family tree.