George Russell Wackenhut (September 3, 1919 — December 31, 2004, Vero Beach, Florida) was the founder of the Wackenhut private security corporation. The son of William and Francis (Hogan) Wackenhut, he grew up in Upper Darby, outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1937. He was inducted into the school's Wall of Fame in 2000. He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and witnessed the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii and a master's degree in education from Johns Hopkins University, then taught classes in physical education and health.
In 1951, Wackenhut joined the FBI as a special agent in Indianapolis and Atlanta, handling counterfeit money and bad-check cases and tracking down Army deserters. He resigned in 1954 to launch Special Agent Investigations in Coral Gables, Florida, with three other former agents - William Stanton, A. Kenneth Altschul and Miami lawyer and FBI agent Ed Du Bois, Jr. Following an infamous in-office fist fight with Du Bois, Jr. in 1955, a professional split occurred and Du Bois, Jr. went on to form his own company, Investigators, Inc., focusing on private investigations.  In 1958, Wackenhut bought out his remaining partners, renamed the company after himself and expanded into the security guard field, and went public in 1965. Even with a profit margin of 2.5 percent, the company's earnings allowed Wackenhut to live lavishly in homes scattered throughout the country. Until he moved to Vero Beach in 1995, his primary residence was a $10 million turreted mansion complete with moat near Miami decorated with firearms and medieval suits of armor. His house was wired with infrared and laser sensors, closed-circuit television monitors and photo-cell surveillance and had private radios for his family. In 1994, an authorized 800-page biography of Wackenhut by John Minahan, The Quiet American (ISBN 0-9639395-0-5), was published.
George Wackenhut was known as a hard-line right-winger. He built up dossiers on Americans suspected of being Communists or left-leaning "subversives and sympathizers" and sold the information to interested parties. Age of Surveillance by Frank Donner (ISBN 0-394-74771-2) claims the Wackenhut Corporation maintained and updated its files even after the McCarthy hysteria had ebbed, adding the names of antiwar protesters and civil rights demonstrators to its list of "derogatory types." By 1965, Wackenhut was boasting to potential investors that the company maintained files on 2.5 million suspected dissidents - one in 46 American adults then living. In 1966, after acquiring the private files of Karl Barslaag, a former staff member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Wackenhut could claim that with more than 4 million names, it had the largest privately held file on suspected dissidents in America. In 1975, after the US Congress investigated companies that had private files, Wackenhut gave its files to the now-defunct anti-Communist Church League of America of Wheaton, Illinois.
Wackenhut's main office featured a pair of chairs shaped like elephants, which he called "Republican chairs," that had real tusks, as well as an autographed photo of Wackenhut shaking hands with George H. W. Bush (whom Wackenhut used to call "that pinko", according to Spy Magazine).
When he sold his company for $570 million in 2002, he owned more than 50 percent of its stock. Wackenhut died on 31 December 2004 of heart failure at the age of 85.
- Obituary of George Wackenhut from Blog of Death[dead link]
- Obituary of George Wackenhut from the Washington Post