“The detection of crime, when entered upon with an honest purpose to discover the haunts of criminals and protect society from their depredations by bringing them to justice, is held to be an honorable calling and worthy of commendation of all good men.”
– Hiram C. Whitley, Chief of the Secret Service, May 1869 – September 1874
While many people today think of the Secret Service as primarily protecting the President, that duty did not actually become a part of their repertoire until 1894. Until 1902 it was conducted only informally and part-time, and even then, only two operatives were assigned full-time to the White House. So what did they do from their creation in 1865 until 1902, and beyond?
Before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was given exclusive authorization of currency production in 1877, our our government was in a precarious situation. Prior to the formation of said currency, one third to one half of all money in circulation was counterfeit. Determined to ensure the safety of the new national currency, the Secret Service was tasked with detecting and bringing to justice the counterfeiters whom were so talented at creating the illegal tender.
Enter the heroes of my series in progress. Each hero is a Secret Service operative from the early days when detecting counterfeiters was their man job and concern. My current hero is working a case in 1883. Researching the cases of these amazing heroes has been a revealing and enjoyable adventure.
More posts will be devoted to these amazing heroes of our early economic system, but for now here are few interesting facts gleaned from my research of the Secret Service prior to 1901:
- The number of operatives in the Secret Service ranged between fifteen men in 1865 and a high of thirty-five in 1898 for the entire United States. A large portion of that time the number of operatives was well below thirty.
- The badge below was issued in 1875 and was the first to feature the “Service Star” – the official emblem still used today.
- The star’s five points each represent one of the agency’s five core values: justice, duty, courage, honesty, and loyalty.
- Secret Service operatives not only located and shut down counterfeiters, they also investigated nonconforming distillers, smugglers, mail robbers, land frauds, and other infractions against the Federal government.
- Secret Service operatives were not initially allowed to arrest criminals, therefore they had to work in conjunction with local police.
- U.S. Marshall’s once earned extra income through the reward money granted for the capture of counterfeiters. When the Secret Service took over that duty, tension developed between the two agencies. Eventually this faded, but in those early days working together was not always done amicably.