The Origin Story Of The Secret Service

Every hero has an origin story. It’s the foundation of who they are today, explaining why or how they fight. The Secret Service is no exception, but you should know their story has nothing to do with covert science and body alterations, not as far as we know.


Today’s Secret Service are most notable for the protection of the president, both sitting and former. Once your life is important enough for the attention of the Secrete Service, they never let you out of their site.

Thanks to them, we’ve not experienced a successful attempt on the President’s life since JFK, not unless you count the attempt on Reagan’s life on March 30, 1981.

Despite the modern day importance of an agent’s willingness to die for the president, taking bullets for the aforementioned was not the original mandate for America’s prestigious agents.

The first job of the Secret Service was to prevent treasury fraud, like counterfeit currency. Back then they weren’t agents. They were operatives.

A Service Is Born

(Secret service 1800s |

After the U.S. Civil War, we had a problem with counterfeit cash. It was everywhere. Keep in mind there were no watermarks, inlay strips or other means to prevent counterfeiters from printing perfect replicas. The only thing standing between a bad bill and a real one was the eye of the proprietor accepting the tender.

Prior to the Secret Service, the only law we had for managing such affairs was the U.S. Marshalls. Those guys already had their hands full.

The first role of the Service was an extension of the Treasury Department. On July 5th, 1865, Chief William P. Wood took his role as the first Secret Service Chief, a role which they would rename as Director in time.

It wasn’t long after that, only two years, in 1867 the Service responsibilities expanded to cover any fraud against the government. That extension included investigations into the Ku Klux Klan, illegal distillers, and other perpetrators of fraud.

By 1894, the Secret Service began part-time protection of the sitting president, Cleveland. It wasn’t until 1901 when that role would quickly expand.

A President Dies

(1905–Secret Service members flank President Theodore Roosevelt’s carriage | source:

September 6th, 1901. In the town of Buffalo, New York, President William McKinley was attending the Pan-American Exposition at the Temple of Music. He was busy shaking hands with the public when a man shot him twice in the abdomen.

McKinley died from gangrene six days later. Prior to this, McKinley had denied the service detail extended to his office.

In the wake of this event, Congress asked the Secret Service to take a formal role protecting the president. A year later they assigned two men to cover the president at all times.

Despite this change, they remained on the payroll of the Treasury.

Escalating Responsibilities

(Secret Service in training | source:

In 1908, the secret service added the president-elect to their list of responsibilities. In 1917, congress asked that the family of the president also receive protection, which the Service obliged, of course.

By 1930, President Hoover put the White House under the supervision of the Secret Service.

The year 1951 was a big one for the Secret Service. That was the year Congress passed a law permanently authorizing the Secret Service to protect the President, his family, the VP and the President-elect.

This allowed the Secrete Service to draw government funding apart from the Treasury Department for the first time. They opened a school for training agents two years later.

Another President Dies

(The assasination of JFK | source:

By the time the bullet pierced Kennedy’s head, it was too late. He shouldn’t have been sitting in a convertible on November 22, 1963, but that was how Presidents paraded.

Had it not happened, who know if Congress would have passed legislation to protect a former president for life, as they did in 1965 or to protect his family even if widowed, as they did in ’67 for Mrs. Kennedy. They may not have made it a federal crime to kill the president.

During the ‘70s the responsibilities extended to the family members of the Vice President, presidential candidates, VP candidates, their spouses, and even the heads of visiting nations.

After the events of September 11th, the Secret Service transferred from the Treasury Department to the Department of Homeland Security.

They’re still responsible for preventing treasury fraud, but we will always think of them as the heroes who protect our most valued leaders.