joy magnetism: "Issued by Woolworth"

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Issued by Woolworth"

Magnet #1062 - Social Security

My friends bought this magnet for me, an old ad and/or poster for the introduction of Social Security back in the late 1930s. Thanks! And, since I'm in DC this week, I figure I'd use a government-y magnet.

The Social Security Administration had several precursors in many ways, shapes and forms, but it wasn't until FDR announced his intention to Congress in 1934 to create a Social Security program that it became an official government agency.

It's pretty cool, if you think about it, how such an administration - no matter how you feel about it politically or socially - can manage to just launch itself, and still be around to this day. It's stuff we take for granted here in the U.S., our ability to create (relatively) stable administrations/offices for the public good, and keep them up and running.

Mind you, there was probably a ton of work to be done to get Social Security launched, and I bet a ton of things went into action the day that FDR said, let's do this. A year later, when FDR signed the Social Security Act into law, that's when the real work began.

Man, I would love to have seen the implementation and marketing plans for this project. They would need 100% awareness, and just think about it - a country in disarray from the Depression, millions out of work, and suddenly, it's about assigning, tracking and paying out Social Security numbers to every citizen in the United States. The United States! Whoa!

According to the SSA, the first number was assigned a New Rochelle, NY, resident, a Mr. John David Sweeney, Jr. But, funnily enough, his number wasn't the lowest number ever - a lady from New Hampshire - Grace Dorothy Owen - had SSN: 001-01-0001. Come on, I would totally play those numbers in the PowerBall lottery.

But, here's something even funnier on the SSA site.

A few years later, folks were still applying for SSNs and cards, and this wallet manufacturer wanted to show how SS cards could fit into their wallets. So they printed up some sample SS cards (no, really, it said "specimen" on it) to stick into the wallets, and went about their merry way, distributing them to Woolworth's and other department stores.

Sounds all well and good, right? I mean, even now, we all get those wallets with fake John/Jane Doe credit cards included.

Yep. Would have been ok, except that some whiz kid from the wallet manufacturer decided to use a real SSN from a real individual - his secretary, Mrs. Hilda Schrader Whitcher, SSN: 078-05-1120.

Um, what?

Turns out - in what I can only believe is proof positive that all my government clients aren't wrong for overthinking the simplest of things when it comes to the American public - some people who bought the wallet started using Hilda's number as their own! Seriously.

And I'm not talking just one or two silly people. Apparently in 1943, as many as 5,755 people were using that number. Almost 6,000 people!

Of course, the SSA folks had to cancel the number, and publicize that it was an invalid number.

And yet, even through 1977, a dozen people were still using Hilda's number that was "issued by Woolworth."

Good grief.
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