Yesterday, I was trying to read up something on the origin of social security numbers, and found a lot of interesting facts about them through various sources. I am compiling them below and hopefully it will provide some interesting reading material in this boring tax season. To my learned readers, some of the information might seemed cliched, but I am sure there are a lot of people out there who have never heard about most of these facts. Here is what I found out:
- The original social security card was designed by Fred Happel of Albany, N.Y in 1936. He was paid $60 for his work.
- The first social security record was established for John David Sweeney on December 1, 1936 with a social security number of 055-09-0001. However, this is not to be confused with the *first social security card* issued. No one can point out the first card issued because hundreds of thousands of them were distributed around the same time through 45,000 post offices throughout US. Ironically, Sweeney died at the age of 61 without receiving any social security benefits.
- The lowest SSN was given to Grace D. Owen of Concord, New Hampshire in 1936 and it was 001-01-0001.
- The first recipient of social security benefits was Ernest Ackerman who received a lump-sum payment 17 cents in 1937.
- Social security numbers are not allocated serially; meaning, the first number ever issued was not the lowest and the latest number issued will not be the highest.
- So what’s the meaning of the numbers on the card? Most people probably know this, but I will mention it nevertheless. Below is a schematic of a typical social security card.
The first three digits are called the area number, the next two digits are called the group number, and the last four digits are the serial numbers. The area numbers are assigned on the basis of the zip-code on your SSN application. The group numbers are just for bookkeeping purposes only, they don’t have any specific meaning. In each group number, the serial numbers are allocated consecutively from 0001 to 9999.
- Area numbers increase from east/northeast coast to west coast. People living on the east/northeast coast have the lowest area numbers (for example, people who apply for SSN from New Hampshire have the lowest area numbers) whereas, people living on the west coast and southwest areas have the highest area numbers.
- Apparently, there have been rumors in the past about the group numbers being used for racial profiling. Here is an interesting *clarification* on www.ssa.gov regarding group numbers:
Apparently due to the fact that the middle digits of the SSN are referred to as the “group number,” some people have misconstrued this to mean that the “group number” refers to racial groupings. So a myth goes around from time-to-time that encoded in a person’s SSN is a key to their race. This simply is not true.
- 078-05-1120 is the most misused social security number ever….some 40,000 people have claimed this SSN as their own. Here is the story behind it:
In 1938, wallet manufacturer the E. H. Ferree company in Lockport, New York decided to promote its product by showing how a Social Security card would fit into its wallets. A sample card, used for display purposes, was inserted in each wallet. Company Vice President and Treasurer Douglas Patterson thought it would be a clever idea to use the actual SSN of his secretary, Mrs. Hilda Schrader Whitcher.The wallet was sold by Woolworth stores and other department stores all over the country. Even though the card was only half the size of a real card, was printed all in red, and had the word “specimen” written across the face, many purchasers of the wallet adopted the SSN as their own. In the peak year of 1943, 5,755 people were using Hilda’s number. SSA acted to eliminate the problem by voiding the number and publicizing that it was incorrect to use it. (Mrs. Whitcher was given a new number.) However, the number continued to be used for many years. In all, over 40,000 people reported this as their SSN. As late as 1977, 12 people were found to still be using the SSN “issued by Woolworth.”
- From the start of the program in 1936 till 2005, an estimated $8.9 trillion have been paid out as social security benefits. In the same period, the program has received $10.7 trillion in income.
- In the present times, invalid social security numbers include numbers with set of zeroes ( as in 000-xx-xxxx, xxx-00-xxxx, xxx-xx-0000), numbers starting with 666, numbers from 987-65-4320 through 987-65-4329 - which are marked for advertising, and numbers with the starting three digits above 770, which are not yet allocated.
- Social security numbers are not reassigned after a people die. Here is what socialsecurity.gov says about it:
We do not reassign a Social Security number (SSN) after the number holder’s death. Even though we have issued over 420 million SSNs so far, and we assign about 5 and one-half million new numbers a year, the current numbering system will provide us with enough new numbers for several generations into the future with no changes in the numbering system.