The Assassination Of President William McKinley Led To The Creation Of The Secret Service

By Karen Harris
A horrified crowd looks on as Leon Czolgosz shoots President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Wash drawing by T. Dart Walker (circa 1905). (MPI/Getty Images)

The very public shooting of President William McKinley was the straw that broke Congress's proverbial back. It was the third assassination of a sitting U.S. president, and they were finally forced to admit that perhaps they had a bit of a security problem. To solve it, they turned to an unlikely team.

Leon Czolgosz And President McKinley

On September 5, 1901, President McKinley showed up to deliver a speech at the Pan-American Exposition, a World's Fair–like event held in Buffalo, New York. A record number of visitors turned out to see the popular president, fresh off his recent victory in the Spanish-American War, and to honor the occasion, the event organizers planned a patriotic firework show that spelled out "Welcome President McKinley, Chief of Our Nation and Our Empire" at the end of his speech.

The next day, McKinley returned to the Exposition to attend a theatrical performance and a meet-and-greet session despite his staff's concern for the president's vulnerability in such a crowd. They were right to be worried: One of the people in line to meet McKinley was Leon Czolgosz, a 28-year-old unemployed Polish immigrant from Detroit, self-proclaimed anarchist, and all-around social misfit who blamed capitalism for his troubles. A few days earlier, Czolgosz traveled to Buffalo, where he bought a .32 caliber revolver that he kept wrapped in a handkerchief and hidden in his jacket pocket.