In his teens, even though François Eugène Vidocq was good in studies, he wanted adventure. Even at young age he was a good swordsman, had good people skills, and keen observation. But his best skill was to be able to disguise himself as anyone. During the onset of the French revolution, he enlisted and rose to the rank of Senior Lieutenant. Soon he was bored and wanted to quit the army. He did what he knew best, he donned a disguise, and escaped. He was caught but he escaped. He was caught again, and he escaped again. All these prison-escapes gave Vidocq a reputation among the criminal underworld.

            Soon he was an established criminal. In 1809, France had a high crime-rate; Police had no way of catching the criminals. Vidocq took advantage of this and formed a deal with the Parisian police. It was simple, Vidocq who knew all criminals because he was a criminal, would give police information on other criminals. In return, Parisian police would ignore his criminal activities. Vidocq went beyond informing on other criminals; he would infiltrate criminal gangs for the Parisian police; he would act as a police spy. Vidocq is credited for being the first confidential informant. It is reported that he helped Parisian police catch more than 800 criminals–a significant number in early 19th century.

François Eugène Vidocq

            Due to his exponential obvious-success in catching criminals, Vidocq gradually rose to power in the Parisian police. In 1811, he was named the first chief of the Sûreté–The French police department of criminal investigation. In 1812, he organized the first detective bureau in the world–the Brigade de la Sûreté. For his work force, he employed former and current criminals. From 1817 to 1827, he was the head of the Sûreté.

            In 1827, Vidocq clashed with the new Prefect of Sûreté. He resigned and started writing his memoirs. Obliviously the Parisian police had problems without the master-criminal within their midst. In 1830, Vidocq joined the Sûreté as the Deputy Prefect. And by 1833, he resigned again.

            This time instead of writing his memoirs, in 1834 Vidocq started the first private detective agency in the world–Le Bureau des Renseignements. His private detective agency would solve all types of crimes for a fee, a business model started by Jonathan Wild. Vidocq is credited also for starting the first Trade Protection Society. Via the Trade Protection Society, for a fee, merchants could check the credits of their new customers. This is the business model of today’s consumer reporting agencies.

            Seeing the success of Vidocq’s Brigade de la Sûreté and Le Bureau des Renseignements, Scotland Yard started their Criminal Investigation Department in 1842 and Alan Pinkerton formed his private detective agency in 1850.


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