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Archives Experience Newsletter - January 30, 2024

  • Worthy of Trust and Confidence

There’s probably no room that a President can walk into unnoticed. Anywhere they go, crowds form, cheers erupt, and you may even hear “Hail to the Chief” playing in the background. But what—or who—you might not notice are the agents surrounding the President. All day, every day, they put their lives on the line, and they do so with quiet dignity. But that wasn’t their original purpose. Today we investigate how the Secret Service went from chasing counterfeit coins to protecting the leader of the free world…


The Secret Service is one of America’s most famous law enforcement agencies in addition to being one of the oldest, but its story is probably one of the least well-known. By 1865, the country’s financial system had been the topic of debate for almost a century. From Alexander Hamilton’s plan for the federal government to assume state debts to Andrew Jackson’s abolition of the National Bank, finance was a touchy issue.



November 23, 1940: Secret Service records arrive at the National Archives building
National Archives Identifier: 12168728

Add in the massive amounts of counterfeit money floating around, and it’s a recipe for a financial crisis.
At the end of the Civil War, more than one-third of American currency was counterfeit. This isn’t just bad because people and businesses were getting paid with worthless cash. Counterfeit money also devalues real money while financing underground and black market activities, thereby increasing crime. In addition to a host of other reparative measures taken after the Civil War, the Department of the Treasury established a new law enforcement agency to curb counterfeiting: the Secret Service.


Secret Service agents inspect currency
(5 minutes 51 seconds)
National Archives Identifier: 149272199

Over time, the Secret Service’s mandate expanded from counterfeit money to other organized criminal activity. They were active in combating the rise of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction; pre-Prohibition, they cracked down on underground brewers and distillers who didn’t follow state and federal laws; they began investigating cases of land fraud against the federal government in the wake of Western expansion; and they also went after robbers, smugglers, and mail thieves.




William J. Flynn, Chief of Division and Staff at the Secret Service, at the whiskey testing laboratory, 1947
National Archives Identifier: 158884159

One of the tragic ironies of the Secret Service is that the agency that would eventually protect Presidents was established by Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865—the day he was assassinated. There were actually immediate calls for the Secret Service to be assigned the duties of Presidential protection, but even though the country was in deep mourning, other crimes took precedence.

In 1894, the Secret Service began protecting President Grover Cleveland part-time. Before the Secret Service assumed full-time protection of the President in 1902, two more Presidents were assassinated: James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881 (although he didn’t pass away from his gunshot wound until September 19, 1881), and William McKinley on September 14, 1901.
In 1901, the Congress requested full-time Presidential protection from the Secret Service, and thus every President from Theodore Roosevelt on has been under their protection. In 1902, only two men were stationed at the White House.

The list of those who qualified for Secret Service protection grew substantially throughout the 20th century.

1908

The President-elect is added to the list of protectees

1917

The Secret Service is assigned to protect the President and their immediate family

1951

An attack on President Truman cements the Secret Service’s role in the protection of the
President, their immediate family, the President-elect, and the Vice President upon request

1952

The Vice President became an official protectee without having to request Secret Service
protection; protection was also extended to the Vice President-elect and the former President for a predetermined period of time, typically six months

1965

Congress extended Secret Service protection to a President’s spouse and children during
their lifetimes – this was triggered by Congress’s extension of Secret Service protection for Mrs. Kennedy and her family in the wake of JFK’s assassination

1968

Robert Kennedy’s assassination leads President Johnson to direct Congress to provide
Secret Service protection for Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates and nominees

1971

The Secret Service will protect all visiting heads of state

1974

The Secret Service is authorized to protect the immediate family of the Vice President


1919: Woodrow Wilson’s Secret Service detail aboard the U.S.S. George Washington
1943 photograph of Secret Service agents who accompanied Roosevelt to Liberia
Secret Service inaugural detail, 1949
President Truman walks with his Secret Service detail, 1946
President Truman’s Secret Service team plays a volleyball game while on vacation in Key West, Florida
Secret Service Agent Olive H. Doyle
President John F. Kennedy attends the swearing-in of new Secret Service Director James J. Rowley
The St. Francis Hotel at the exact time of the attempted assassination on Gerald Ford
The St. Francis Hotel, one second after the attempted assassination on Gerald Ford
The Reagans’ inaugural parade limo surrounded by Secret Service agents on foot
1981: The aftermath of an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan at the George Washington Hotel
1987: The Secret Service unloads the “Pope-mobile” in preparation for the pontiff’s visit to the United States
President Bill Clinton is surrounded by Secret Service while shaking hands at Fort Drum
President George W. Bush and his Secret Service Agent, Eddie Marinzel, arrive at an Air Force Base in Nebraska on September 11, 2001
A Secret Service agent talks on the phone from the World Trade Center after 9/11
A Secret Service officer wears a black band over his badge in the wake of 9/11
President Obama greets Secret Service personnel, 2011
Michelle Obama and her Secret Service agent take a toboggan ride at the Great Wall of China
1/18 - 1919: Woodrow Wilson’s Secret Service detail aboard the U.S.S. George Washington - National Archives Identifier: 86726956
2/18 - 1943 photograph of Secret Service agents who accompanied Roosevelt to Liberia - National Archives Identifier: 218518004
3/18 - Secret Service inaugural detail, 1949 - National Archives Identifier: 343788461
4/18 - President Truman walks with his Secret Service detail, 1946 - National Archives Identifier: 348264371
5/18 - President Truman’s Secret Service team plays a volleyball game while on vacation in Key West, Florida - National Archives Identifier: 199043
6/18 - Secret Service Agent Olive H. Doyle - National Archives Identifier: 522872
7/18 - President John F. Kennedy attends the swearing-in of new Secret Service Director James J. Rowley - National Archives Identifier: 12000131
8/18 - The St. Francis Hotel at the exact time of the attempted assassination on Gerald Ford - National Archives Identifier: 7065143
9/18 - The St. Francis Hotel, one second after the attempted assassination on Gerald Ford - National Archives Identifier: 7065144
10/18 - The Reagans’ inaugural parade limo surrounded by Secret Service agents on foot - National Archives Identifier: 75856499
11/18 - 1981: The aftermath of an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan at the George Washington Hotel - National Archives Identifier: 75852785
12/18 - 1987: The Secret Service unloads the “Pope-mobile” in preparation for the pontiff’s visit to the United States - National Archives Identifier: 6427143
13/18 - President Bill Clinton is surrounded by Secret Service while shaking hands at Fort Drum - National Archives Identifier: 6493716
14/18 - President George W. Bush and his Secret Service Agent, Eddie Marinzel, arrive at an Air Force Base in Nebraska on September 11, 2001 - National Archives Identifier: 204325902
15/18 - A Secret Service agent talks on the phone from the World Trade Center after 9/11 - National Archives Identifier: 213243958
16/18 - A Secret Service officer wears a black band over his badge in the wake of 9/11 - National Archives Identifier: 213247530
17/18 - President Obama greets Secret Service personnel, 2011 - National Archives Identifier: 176546754
18/18 - Michelle Obama and her Secret Service agent take a toboggan ride at the Great Wall of China - National Archives Identifier: 138925798
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1919: Woodrow Wilson’s Secret Service detail aboard the U.S.S. George Washington
1943 photograph of Secret Service agents who accompanied Roosevelt to Liberia
Secret Service inaugural detail, 1949
President Truman walks with his Secret Service detail, 1946
President Truman’s Secret Service team plays a volleyball game while on vacation in Key West, Florida
Secret Service Agent Olive H. Doyle
President John F. Kennedy attends the swearing-in of new Secret Service Director James J. Rowley
The St. Francis Hotel at the exact time of the attempted assassination on Gerald Ford
The St. Francis Hotel, one second after the attempted assassination on Gerald Ford
The Reagans’ inaugural parade limo surrounded by Secret Service agents on foot
1981: The aftermath of an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan at the George Washington Hotel
1987: The Secret Service unloads the “Pope-mobile” in preparation for the pontiff’s visit to the United States
President Bill Clinton is surrounded by Secret Service while shaking hands at Fort Drum
President George W. Bush and his Secret Service Agent, Eddie Marinzel, arrive at an Air Force Base in Nebraska on September 11, 2001
A Secret Service agent talks on the phone from the World Trade Center after 9/11
A Secret Service officer wears a black band over his badge in the wake of 9/11
President Obama greets Secret Service personnel, 2011
Michelle Obama and her Secret Service agent take a toboggan ride at the Great Wall of China
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next arrow


President Johnson talks with J. Edgar Hoover about Secret Service protection for Presidential candidates
National Archives Identifier: 205708634

To fulfill this long list of duties, the Secret Service has added thousands of employees, including the first woman agent, Phyllis Shantz, in 1970, and the first woman deputy director, Barbara Riggs, in 2004. On March 1, 2003, the Secret Service moved from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Homeland Security as it took a more active role in the broader protection of the American public.
The agency currently employs more than 7,000 people globally, has field offices on almost every continent, and is a valued partner of other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.



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