Reader Tom Phelps reported that he had “old copies of what appear to be applications for a Social Security Number, but they are a US Treasury Department Form 3227 (Application for Account Number).”
And, he said, “I gather this used to be an alternative way to apply for an SSN, but I am unable to trace the history. Can you help?”
The Legal Genealogist sure can.
Here’s the story.
As amazing as it may seem today for those of us accustomed to seeing Social Security numbers assigned to babies shortly after birth and used for everything from school enrollment to medical records, it wasn’t always the case that Americans had to have a Social Security number at all.
The whole system began with the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935. That statute provided, in part, that there would be a tax collected from employees and employers to fund a variety of benefits, principally old age pensions for workers. It created a Social Security Board, later the Social Security Administration, and then gave rulemaking power to the agencies charged with enforcement:
The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Social Security Board respectively, shall make and publish such rules and regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, as may be necessary to the efficient administration of the functions with which each is charged under this Act.1
Obviously one of the key things that had to be done was keep track of people who were paying in. As a result:
Social security numbers were first issued in late November 1936 to workers in industry and commerce covered by the Social Security Act. …
The original and still the primary reason for issuing numbers was to ensure that earnings in covered employment would be properly posted on an individual’s earnings record. In recent years, however, social security numbers have been used for a variety of nonprogram uses, the most important of which is to identify taxpayers for Federal income-tax purposes.
More than 37 million social security numbers had been issued by the end of 1937. In the next dozen years, the number varied with the number of new entrants into covered employment. It reached a peak of 7.6 million in the war year 1942 but dropped to an average of 2.7 million in the postwar period 1946-50. Coverage of additional workers in 1951 and of still more in 1955 resulted in substantial growth in applications for numbers in 1951 and 1952 and in 1955 and 1956. During 1957-61, the average number issued annually was about 3.3 million.2
When people applied for a Social Security number in those early years — and most people who worked filled it out on the job — the form they used was the one we’re most familiar with: the SS-5. It was a Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service, form with the heading “U.S. Social Security Act, Application for Account Number.”3
But read the last sentence of that middle paragraph again. The part that talks about non-program uses: “the most important of which is to identify taxpayers for Federal income-tax purposes.”
Along came the Revenue Act of 1962.4 And one of its purposes was to ensure that tax dollars were collected — and withheld — from a lot of taxpayers who weren’t necessarily wage-earners in the Social Security system. That meant more automation, more keeping track of people. And, well, it just seemed to make the most sense, to be the easiest, to join forces with the Social Security numbering system.
Enter Form 3227:
In 1962 the Internal Revenue Service began its taxpayer registration program with the use of special IRS Form 3227, which was, in effect, an application for a social security number (though it did not expressly state that the number applied for was the social security number). In the 3-year period 1962-64, the average annual rate of issuances was 6.3 million, including those based on Form 3227. The 1963 total (8.6 million) was the largest for any year from 1938 to 1971, and 2.0 million of that total represented Form 3227 applications.5
There were all kinds of reports and articles in newspapers when the requirement came in, like the one illustrating this post, but the bottom line was this: you had to file your taxes, and you couldn’t do it without an identifying number, so… people in droves filed and ended up with Social Security numbers.
The form was only used for three years — it was phased out on 1 May 1964 (“Form SS-5, Application for Social Security Account Number, used in lieu of Form 3227 on and after May 1, 1964”).6
But during that three-year period you may find either a Form 3227 or a Form SS-5 for a family member.
Not because of the Social Security Act requirements.
But because it was a taxing form.
Image: San Rafael (Cal.) Daily Independent Journal, p. 29, col. 5-6 (29 Dec 1962); Newspapers.com.
- §1102, Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 620 (14 August 1935). ↩
- Herbert R. Tacker, “Notes and Brief Reports: Social Security Numbers Issued, 1937-1971,” Social Security Bulletin, July 1972, at 1; PDF version online (http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v35n7/v35n7p30.pdf : accessed 8 Dec 2014). ↩
- I know that because I’m looking at one, filled out by my grandfather on 22 June 1937. C.R. Cottrell, SS no. (withheld), 22 June 1937, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore. ↩
- Revenue Act of 1962, 76 Stat. 982 (16 Oct 1962). ↩
- Tacker, “Notes and Brief Reports: Social Security Numbers Issued, 1937-1971,” Social Security Bulletin, July 1972, at 1. ↩
- 1964 Annual Report, Commissioner of Internal Revenue for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1964 (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Printing Office, 1964), 3; PDF version online (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/64dbcomplete.pdf : accessed 8 Dec 2014). ↩