Early Historical and Literary Influences on the Genre
Trying to pinpoint the first fictional "private detective" (never mind the first "private eye") is pretty much like nailing jello to the wall...
during an earthquake.
Nonetheless, all the following suspects contributed to the development of the private eye as we now understand the term.
Slightly tarnished, but not afraid to continue searching for the dingus.
Ran his own agency, called his hard-boiled ops Merry Men.
C. Auguste Dupin
by Edgar Allan Poe
Created before the word detective had even been coined, Poe pretty much laid the groundwork for all fictional detectives to follow in the Dupin stories, establishing most of the common elements of detective fiction. P.I. buffs should also note that Dupin and Natty Bumpo (see below) made their literary debuts the same year..
Natty "Hawkeye" Bumpo
When a man's partner is killed...
Gun for hire, cleans up a town, see Red Harvest.
The man who put the "eye" in "private eye."
The original cowboy detective. He worked for the Pinkertons.
François Eugène Vidocq
History's first recorded real-life private detective.
by Charles Felix
Insurance investigator in arguably the first detective novel, The Notting Hill Mystery.
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Like, I have to make a case here?
by Arthur Morrison
This early British rival of Sherlock Holmes is one of the most vile P.I.s of all time, and he appeared over a century ago!
by John E. Bruce
Not just the first black eye, but one of the very first eyes of all, predating even Hammett and Daly!
Jim Hanvey, Florian Slappey and David Carroll
by Octavus Roy Cohen
Both Hanvey and Slappey were detecting in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post years, and Carroll had already appeared in novels and a play before Three Gun Terry made his debut in Black Mask.
by S.S. Van Dine
A presumptuous, pretentious monocle-wearing upper class twit, about as far from the mean streets as you can get, and yet for years America's most popular detective. Then came the deluge...
In the Beginning: The First Hard-Boiled Private Eye Story