Brink's was founded in Chicago on May 5, 1859 when Perry Brink purchased a horse-drawn wagon and made his first delivery. The wagon bore his new company's name – Brink's City Express. Chicago was booming, fueled by new railroads built to exploit the growing economy of the surrounding Midwestern U.S. With railroads came manufacturers, distributors, banks and insurance companies, all of whom attracted business travelers to the new city. In the early days, Brink used his single wagon to transport travelers' luggage between Chicago rail stations and hotels.
In 1860, Brink's employees delivered luggage and parcels during the Republican National Convention, where an estimated 50, 000 delegates and spectators assembled to see local dark-horse candidate Abraham Lincoln win the nomination over other contenders.
In 1871, the Great Chicago fire destroyed some 18, 000 buildings, including the headquarters of Brink's City Express. Miraculously, Brink's horses and wagons were saved and the company was back in operation within a week. As Chicago recovered, Brink's grew. By 1872, Brink's ran 20 wagons to every part of the city three times a day and had begun service to the prosperous new suburbs. The company advertised fees less than those of competitors: 25 cents to deliver a trunk from a train station to anywhere in the city.
When Perry Brink died of encephalitis at age of 43 in 1874, he left an estate valued at $2, 654 to his wife and two children; eldest son Arthur Perry Brink, just 19 years old, became the company's new leader. In 1878, Brink's was one of the first businesses in Chicago to install a telephone; the company was one of only 500 subscribers listed in the November 1878 Chicago telephone directory. In 1879, four investors, including Arthur Brink, financed further expansion as the company sold stock and was incorporated for the first time.
The late 1880's and 1890's were a turbulent period, especially in Chicago. Brink's was closely linked to the railroad industry, which was especially hard hit by economic contraction, stock market upheaval and social unrest. With the traditional delivery business declining, Brink's shifted its focus to transporting money. In 1891, the company's first shipment of money was made: six bags of silver dollars, each weighing 61 pounds, delivered from the Home National Bank to the Federal Building. Soon after, Brink's bonded its employees and guaranteed to customers that they would be reimbursed for lost, damaged or stolen shipments. In 1893, Brink's was the sole authorized delivery company for packages and money at the World's Columbian Exposition, better known as the Chicago World's Fair.
As Chicago grew and rapidly industrialized, massive new firms began employing thousands of workers. All of those workers needed to be paid in cash on regular pay schedules. Brink's began to serve this need for payroll security. Rates were modest: in 1904, Brink's contracted to deliver payroll twice monthly to the Corn Exchange National Bank; the $12, 000 payroll delivery cost $5 per trip.
In 1904, Brink's made a giant technological leap and acquired its first motorized vehicle: a Knox Gasoline Express Wagon. It was not universally well received: it was reported to have frightened the horses. Employees complained about fumes in the stables. On the other hand, the Knox could reach 18 miles (29 km) an hour and it didn't break down at all during a 12 day test. Arthur Brink boasted the new truck could replace three wagons and 12 horses. While horses remained a decreasing part of the Brink's operation until the 1920's, by 1910 Brink's had begun closing stables and turning barns into garages. (Knox went bankrupt in 1914; a restored 1904 truck remains on display at the Brink's Museum in Chicago.)
In 1912, the Brink family severed its relationship with the company they had founded when Arthur Brink retired and moved to California. (His son, Percy, briefly formed an unaffiliated and unsuccessful Brink's Express Company in Los Angeles.) Arthur died in 1916 at age 61.
In 1904, the veterinarian Dr. Frank Allen began caring for the company's horses. Allen became a shareholder one year later, was named to the board of directors in 1909 and served as company president from 1919 to 1944. Both of Allen's sons also worked for Brink's. John Allen worked his entire career at Brink's, succeeding his father as president from 1944 to 1952. Barton Allen was one of two Brink's employees murdered on August 28, 1917 during a robbery at a payroll distribution site.
The 1917 robbery forced the company to implement new practices to combat escalating criminal activity. Initially, convoy cars were deployed to follow behind each money car. Armored side panels were added to refurbished school buses and small safes bolted to the floorboards. By 1923, armored cars were being constructed of lightweight steel, but frames and floors were still made of wood. In 1927, bandits in Coverdale, Pennsylvania used dynamite to blow open the floor of a Brink's truck that was travelling along a country road on a payroll delivery. The robbers managed to flee with about $100, 000. Soon after, Brink's vehicles were updated again with steel frames and floors.