The first Social Security number

When was the first Social Security number (SSN) issued? No one knows. The first Social Security number could have been issued 76 years ago today.

The original Social Security Board did not yet have any field offices when, in late 1936, it contracted with the U.S. Postal Service to distribute and assign the first batch of Social Security numbers (SSN’s). The Social Security Board also enlisted the Treasury Department to assure employer cooperation.

The SSN registration process was largely directed by local postmasters. The first task for the postmen was to make up lists of employers on their routes, an effort resulting in a list of 2.4 million employers. Starting on November 16, 1936, the procedure was for post offices to ask employers how many employees they had at their place of business.  

Post offices then supplied employers an application for Social Security number (SS-5) form for each employee. Completed SS-5 forms were returned to the post office for assignment of a Social Security number and typing of the SSN card in one of approximately 1,074 post offices designated as typing center sites.

Once the Social Security number was assigned and the card typed, the local letter carrier returned the card to the place of business as a piece of regular mail. A record of the SSN assignment was sent to Social Security headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, where the SSN master file would be kept. 

The first Social Security number card was issued, sometime in mid-November 1936, somewhere in one of the 1,074 post offices designated as a typing center, to someone whose identity and SSN are unknown.

In theory, the first card should have been issued on November 24, but there have been reports of cards showing earlier dates. About 45,000 local post offices, including the typing centers, were involved in this effort. If all correctly followed procedures, no cards could have been issued before November 16, and none should have been issued before November 24.

The best that the Social Security Administration can say with certainty is that the first Social Security number was issued sometime in mid-November 1936. On whatever day the first card was issued, hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers were probably issued on that same day. Post Office efforts and a Social Security Board publicity campaign resulted in over 22 million completed applications as of December 22, 1936, 28 days after the initial distribution of employee applications. During the first 4 months of the registration campaign, nearly 26 million SSNs were assigned. 

Directed to “Employees of Industrial and Business Establishments,” see some of the 1936 publicity here:

Even though when the first Social Security number was issued is unknown, there is a first offical Social Security number. More about it another time.

Learn the history of Social Security at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/history/.

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