The first (official) Social Security number

Last week I mentioned that the first Social Security number (SSN) card was issued, sometime in mid-November 1936, to someone whose identity and SSN are unknown.

In theory, the first card should have been issued on November 24, 1936, but 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.  

Even though when the first Social Security number was issued is unknown, there is a first official Social Security number, selected at random on December 1, 1936. As Social Security numbers were being locally assigned through the U.S. Postal Service, records were sent to Social Security headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, where the SSN master file would be kept. 

According to the history section of the Social Security website, as part of the master file preparation in Baltimore, the Social Security number records were grouped in blocks of 1,000. The top record of the first stack became the official first Social Security number record. 

With that, the first Social Security number record, if not the actual first SSN, was established for Mr. John Sweeney, Jr., age 23 of New York State. To learn the family business, Mr. Sweeney was working as a shipping clerk for his father, a factory owner, at the time. He died before reaching retirement age, but his widow received Social Security survivors benefits through his record. 

Mr. Sweeney held the first official SSN record, not the lowest Social Security number. The lowest SSN, 001-01-0001, went to a woman in New Hampshire. 

Today when applications for Social Security benefits are processed, SSA representatives electronically compare the personal information provided on your original application for a Social Security number (SSN), as well as name or other changes, with information on your application for benefits. 

Applications for Social Security benefits were still manually processed when my responsibilities included adjudicating them. Electronic comparison of original SSN to application information was not an option. Instead, when a person applied for Social Security benefits, the local SSA representative was mailed the actual, original paper, SSN application and related changes for comparison with the benefit application.  

Given that my first clients were born in the years on either side of 1910, it is likely that I have held many of the very first Social Security number applications from November 1936. For me, that is rather neat. 

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

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