For an organization that has secret in their name, they aren’t all that secret. But they have managed to keep one part of their job, the main part, a little secret, albeit accidentally. This is despite it having always been know. The main job of the secret service if to investigate counterfeiting and other financial crimes. It’s actually a division of Treasury.
Every time that you look at the president of the US on television or in parades, lurking not far behind is a contingent of Secret Service agents. They provide protection for the president, their family, former presidents, vice presidents, visiting leaders, and other important dignitaries. This may be the most visible role that they have, but it’s not the main job of the Secret Service.
Even though the main job of the Secret Service isn’t protection, and it is to investigate financial crimes, they still provide a useful service.
The Secret service was instigated by Abraham Lincoln on July 5, 1865. The legislation creating the service was on Lincoln’s desk the night that he was assassinated. The Secret Services main job at the time was to solve the rampant counterfeiting at the time. It was estimated that approximately one third of all currency in circulation was fake. For the economy, that’s a really bad thing.
Because the US Marshals were undermanned, many of the federal law enforcement roles quickly fell to them. They started to investigate all kinds of crime, from murder through to illegal gambling. But protection services remained out of their jurisdiction for decades.
In 1901, when president McKinley was assassinated, the Congress requested, informally, that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. One year later the first agent lost their life while serving in this protection role. He died in a car accident that was part of the presidents carriage. There has only been one death of an agent while protecting a president during an assassination attempt. This occurred in 1950 when two gunmen attempted the assassination of president Truman. Private Leslie Coffelt was mortally wounded in the attack, but before he died he returned fire, killing one assassin and wounding the other.