William Craig was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and was a former bodyguard for Queen Victoria. In 1900, he joined the American Secret Service in Chicago. A year later he was assigned to the White House as the Secret Service took over the responsibility for protecting the president following the assassination of President McKinley. He was described as a “giant of a man” speaking with a Scottish accent.
In September of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt visited his friend and political confidante, Massachusetts Governor Winthrop Murray Crane, as part of a New England speaking tour. During the past two weeks, he had delivered speeches on a number of his favorite topics, including labor, monopolies and the ongoing coal strike.
On Sept. 3, President Roosevelt, Governor Crane, George B. Cortlyou, Secretary of Commerce and Labor, and William Craig were being driven in a carriage from Dalton to nearby Lenox. As they were passing through Pittsfield, on what is now known as South Street, a speeding trolley car crashed into the carriage. The impact instantly killed Craig. Roosevelt was thrown some 30 feet and suffered cuts and bruises but was not seriously injured. Neither Cortlyou nor Crane was injured. The driver of the trolley was eventually sentenced to six months imprisonment.
The President in speaking later of Craig said: “He was a sturdy character and tremendously capable in performing his duties. My children thought a great deal of him, as we all did.”
Craig was well-known in Chicago at the time, especially in athletic circles. He was the “physical director” at the Armour Institute and held a similar position at the Princeton-Yale school. At both schools he gave frequent demonstrations as a swordsman and as a boxer.
William Craig was brought back to Chicago, buried in Oak Woods Cemetery and forgotten until August of 2002, when the United States Secret Service discovered that he was the first operative to die in the line of duty, and dedicated a bronze marker with details of Craig’s life and death.
In 2005, the City of Pittsfield honored Craig by enshrining him in its list of officers of fallen in the line of duty.
Throughout the 20th century, Crane – as the manufacturer of the paper for United States currency – has had a close relationship with the Secret Service, as both parties take on the war against counterfeiting.