Written By: Eliza Berman

In what may be one of the biggest coincidences in presidential history, Abraham Lincoln signed legislation creating the Secret Service on April 14, 1865, just hours before he was assassinated. But the agency he created wouldn’t have done much to save him had they been around sooner. The original purpose of the United States Secret Service was to tackle the country’s burgeoning counterfeit money problem.

By the time LIFE covered the Secret Service more than a century later, it had taken on a dual mission–protecting the country’s currency and protecting the President, other high-ranking officials and their families from bodily harm.

In 1968, five years after the assassination of President Kennedy, and in the month after Martin Luther King’s death and before Robert Kennedy’s, LIFE dispatched photographer Stan Wayman to shoot the men as they practiced their shooting. In this monthly qualification test, which agents had to pass in addition to biannual physical exams, agents were tested in marksmanship, motorcade etiquette, defensive combat and life-saving techniques.

Agents practiced shooting at the National Arboretum, which was, according to notes accompanying the photographs, “one of the few places in the District isolated enough to shoot guns without passers-by thinking another riot is taking place.” “Another” here refers to the six days of protest that took place in Washington after King’s death the previous month. But everything that took place on this spring day was just a drill, and the few tourists who did spot the agents “were sadly disappointed to find out the president wasn’t along for the work out.”

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968. Pictured (Left to Right): Dave Grant (running), Art Godfrey, Ron Pontius, John Paul Jones. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail works on marksmanship, May 1968. Pictured: Clint Hill (shooting), Ron Pontius (standing), P. Hamilton “Ham” Brown (driving). (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail at the shooting range, May 1968. The first three agents (left to right) are Art Godfrey, Clint Hill and Mike Howard. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Members of White House detail Art Godfrey, Clint Hill, Mike Howard, Dave Grant, P. Hamilton “Ham” Brown, Chuck Zboril and Ron Pontius practice using 4-inch .357 Magnum revolvers. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968. Pictured (from rear): P. Hamilton Brown, Dave Grant, Mike Howard and Clint Hill. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Secret Service agents trained on both rifles and shot guns. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Instructor and Art Godfrey examine silhouette at shooting practice. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Ned Hall and Chuck Zboril practice hand-to-hand combat and disarming a suspect. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Ned Hall and Chuck Zboril practice hand-to-hand combat and disarming a suspect. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Another view of Ned Hall and Chuck Zboril practicing hand-to-hand combat. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

All agents were excellent marksmen. Most were in the “expert marksmanship” category. Here, Art Godfrey (foreground) takes aim. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Shooting was considered the most important part of any agent’s training. Here, (left to right) Mike Howard, Dave Grant, Ham Brown and Chuck Zboril at Remington 12-gauge shotgun practice. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail practiced shooting at the National Arboretum, the only spot isolated enough not to alarm passers-by. Pictured (left to right in suits): Mike Howard, Dave Grant, Ham Brown and Chuck Zboril. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

When the agents were not on the road or guarding the White House, they were training, attending lectures and learning new techniques. Pictured: Art Godfrey (left) and Chuck Zboril. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

The White House detail taking their monthly qualification tests, May 1968.

Cars in the presidential motorcade were specially outfitted with handles for agents, bulletproof tires and electronic communications. The car at rear is a newer model to replace the vintage 1950s Cadillac follow-up cars. (Stan Wayman / The LIFE Picture Collection)

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