Papers of Arthur J. Altmeyer

Information from Online Catalog

Altmeyer, Arthur Joseph, 1891-1972

Papers, 1904-1973.
16.6 c.f. (36 archives boxes and 1 flat box); plus unprocessed additions of 0.6 c.f.
Papers of Altmeyer who as member and chairman of the Social Security Board and as Commissioner of Social Security guided the development of the federal social security program from 1935 to 1953. In addition he served as a member of the executive committee of the National Youth Administration (NYA), 1935; member of the Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities, 1935-1940; member of the War Manpower Commission, 1942-1945; and United States delegate to several international conferences and organizations.
With the exception of several early speeches and writings, the papers relate to Altmeyer's work in the federal government and his later consulting work, with the major portions pertaining to his administration of the Social Security Act. Correspondence, memoranda, and reports chiefly concern the National Recovery Administration, 1933-1934; the National Health Conference, 1938; the United States Employment Service, 1939-1949; unemployment compensation, 1940-1949; public assistance, 1938-1953; and old-age and survivors' insurance (OASI), 1937-1953. Among Altmeyer's correspondents were Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, several presidential assistants, Federal Security Administration heads Paul V. McNutt, Oscar Ewing, and Oveta Culp Hobby, and University of Wisconsin economist Edwin E. Witte, as well as Robert Ball, Wilbur J. Cohen, and Isidore S. Falk. Files of Altmeyer's speeches, press releases, and articles; personal correspondence files of Altmeyer and his wife, Ethel May Thomas; and reference files on national health insurance, pension plans, welfare, and social security are also included in the collection.
The processed portion of this collection is described above and dates 1904-1973; there are unprocessed additions, 1937-1952.
Finding aid:
Ball, Robert M.
Cohen, Wilbur J. (Wilbur Joseph), 1913-1987.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969.
Ewing, Oscar R. (Oscar Ross), 1899-1980.
Falk, Isidore Sydney, 1899- .
Hobby, Oveta Culp, 1905- .
McNutt, Paul V. (Paul Vories), 1891-1955.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945.
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972.
Witte, Edwin Emil, 1887-1960.
United States. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare.
United States. Employment Service.
United States. Federal Security Agency. Social Security Administration.
United States. National Recovery Administration.
Insurance, Health.
Insurance, Unemployment.
New Deal, 1933-1939.
Public welfare.
Social security--United States.
Manuscript collection.
Additional Authors/Creators:
Altmeyer, Ethel May.
RLIN Number:
Archives Main Stacks
Call Number:
Mss 400
Shelf Location:
Box 1-19 (Mss 400) MAD 3M/14/K2-5
Archives Main Stacks
Call Number:
Wis Mss WP
Shelf Location:
Box 20 (Mss 400) MAD 3M/72/D5
Archives Main Stacks
Call Number:
Wis Mss WP
Shelf Location:
17 boxes (Wis/WP) MAD 4 /28/N1-3
Z:Unprocessed Accessions
Call Number:
Shelf Location:
MAD 3 /24/F4
Altmeyer's appointment books, 1937-1952. Qty: 0.6 c.f. (2 archives boxes)
Background Information
There are two main collections in the Altmeyer papers: one designated Wis Mss/WP and one designated Mss 400. The finding aid for these two collections each contain a brief biography of Altmeyer and a box-level description of the materials in the collections.


During much of the Great Depression, throughout the nineteen forties, and well into the fifties, the name of Arthur Altmeyer was synonymous with social security. First as chairman of the Technical Board appointed by the President's Committee on Economic Security, later as member and chairman of the Social Security Board,, and finally as Commissioner for Social Security, he was charged with responsibility for administering the Social Security Act of 1935 and its amendments. He guided the program through its first eighteen years of trial and development. By the time he left government service, social security in the United States was firmly established and the original act had been strengthened, extended, and expanded.

Arthur J. Altmeyer was born in De Pere Wisconsin, in 1891, and due to family difficulties started supporting himself at the age of fourteen. By the time he could afford college he was twenty?one, but he finished his degree within three years and won a Phi Beta Kappa key as well. In 1921 he completed his M. A., in 1931, his Ph. D., and in 1939 he received the LL.D., all from the University of Wisconsin.

After graduating in 1914, he spent four years as a teacher and principal in the schools of the iron range country in northern Minnesota. Returning to the University of Wisconsin graduate school in 1918, he became an assistant to the economist, John R. Commons, and served part time as a statistician with the Wisconsin State Tax Commission. In 1920 he was made chief statistician for the Wisconsin Industrial Commission and two years later became secretary of the Commission. For more than a decade he was directly concerned with labor legislation including the Wisconsin Unemployment Act which was passed in January 1932??the first such law in the United States. Following the financial crash of 1929, he became involved, also, with unemployment relief, and in 1931 began having more direct contact with the government in Washington as he sought federal relief money for Wisconsin.

In 1933 Mr. Altmeyer was appointed chief of the federal government's Labor Compliance Division under the National Recovery Act (NRA), and served from June 1934 to November 1935 as Second Assistant Secretary of Labor. In this latter position he was given responsibility for strengthening the administrative organization of the Labor Department and was also made chairman of the Technical Board appointed by the President's Committee on Economic Security. Thus, he was directly involved in helping to frame the Social Security Act. This led to his appointment to the new Social Security Board where he served as a member and chairman, and later as Commissioner of Social Security under the Federal Security Agency.

When Mr. Eisenhower became president Mr. Altmeyer did not remain in office but returned to Madison, Wisconsin to lecture, write and serve as advisor to various labor groups and pension organizations. He also spent some time in Iran, Turkey and Peru as an advisor for the development of social welfare programs. In 1964 he and Mrs. Altmeyer moved back to Washington to live, to continue his advisory work in connection with private pension plans.

During the years when Mr. Altmeyer was administering the Social Security Act he served in various other positions requiring a man of his capabilities, experience, and interest. In 1935 he was a member of the executive committee of the National Youth Administration (NYA); he served as a member of the Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities from 1935 to 1940. This committee then became the Interdepartmental Advisory Council to Coordinate Health, Welfare, and Related Activities Affecting the National Defense. In 1939 he was chairman of the U. S. delegation to the Regional Conference of American States of the International Labor Organization in Havana, Cuba; and again in 1942 headed an American delegation, this time to the first Inter-American Conference on Social Security at Santiago, Chile. From 1942 to 1952 he was chairman of the Permanent Inter-American Committee on Social Security. In 1942 he was executive director of the War Manpower Commission and a member of the Commission until 1945. He was advisor to the U. S. representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 1946. He was then appointed the U. S. representative on the Social Commission and served in that position until 1953. He spent the spring and summer of 1947 in Switzerland as executive director of the Preparatory Commission for the International Refugee Organization.

Throughout his career Mr. Altmeyer has lectured widely and written many articles and monographs in the field of employment and social welfare. In addition, he is the author of The Industrial Commission of Wisconsin--A Case Study in Labor Law Administration, 1932; Estudio Economico de la Legislacion Social Peruana y Sugerrencias para su Mejoramiento, Lima 1957, co-author with Romulo A. Ferrero; and The Formative Years of Social Security, University of Wisconsin Press.

The Papers
With the exception of his Bachelor's thesis (1914), three papers on workmen's compensation prior to 1933, and several speeches and articles, this collection deals entirely with Mr. Altmeyer's work with the federal government and particularly his administration of the Social Security Act. Material concerning social security includes the U. S. Employment Service, unemployment compensation, public assistance, and old age and survivor's insurance (OASI).

Before presenting the papers to the Society Mr. Altmeyer grouped them according to the committee, commission, or agency with which he worked; and he segregated materials relating to particular government personnel such as the president or the administrator of the Federal Security Administration. At his request, these groupings, with their descriptive headings, have been left as he made them. It will be noted in the shelf list that they generally follow a chronological arrangement. Papers within each folder are in order by months.

Mr. Altmeyer provided advice for social legislation and drafts for social security messages and speeches for both President Roosevelt and President Truman; and was in communication with Administrators Paul V. McNutt, Oscar Ewing, and Oveta Culp Hobby when each headed the Federal Security Agency. On January 4, 1936, Franklin Roosevelt wrote him concerning the need for further research on risks to economic security arising out of illness (Box 2, Health Insurance Report; and on August 22 of the same year the president wrote him his views on the extent to which the Social Security Board should answer attacks on social legislation (Box 2, President Roosevelt). Again, on April 20, 1938 Roosevelt suggested ways for improving and extending the Social Security Act; and in May, 1945, President Truman wrote of financing provisions for the Act (Box 3). In general, however, communications are from the office of the president rather than from the president, himself.

Correspondence with the presidents is usually is the form of memoranda exchanged with presidential assistants such as Marvin McIntyre, Stephen Early, James Roosevelt, or John R. Steelemman; or in the form of drafts of letters Mr. Altmeyer prepared for the president and the FSA administrator in helping them to answer inquiries concerning the social security system. One such inquiry for example, is a telegram to Roosevelt, January 7, 1935, from Governor Philip E. La Follette and Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr. regarding the federal tax measure for unemployment insurance in relation to state laws, forwarded to Mr. Altmeyer from the office of Secretary of Labor Perkins.

With a few exceptions, there is very little correspondence between Dr. Altmeyer and other experts outside of government offices and congress. In July, 1940, he received letters from Professor Edwin E. Witte advising him on an unemployment insurance plank Altmeyer prepared for the Democratic platform in that year; and in August, 1952, he wrote to Isador Lubin outlining information for a speech to be given by Adlai Stevenson in the presidential campaign (Box 4, Election platforms and related data). In May and June of 1948 he and Dr. Witte exchanged letters concerning the Appropriation Act of 1948 and its effect on social security. These are examples of correspondence, but in general the papers illustrate proposals and arguments advanced in connection with social legislation and administration of the social security system as shown through interagency correspondence and memoranda, drafts for bills and amendments, and suggestions for speeches and presidential messages.

What appears to be almost a complete file of Altmeyer articles and speeches is contained in the first eleven volumes and in Box 11. Volumes 12 and 13 contain public statements and press releases from 1934 to 1952.
Container List
Wis Mss/WP-
(Presented by Arthur J. Altmeyer, Washington, D. C., Sept. 9, 1964)
MRH 12/1/64
Box 1 Wisconsin material: Thesis and seminar papers, 1914-1933
National Recovery Administration (NRA): Correspondence, memoranda, releases, 1933-1934
Committee on Economic Security: Correspondence and reports, 1934-1935
Social Security Act of 1935: Correspondence, vote, endorsements, 1935-1936
Box 2 Health Insurance Report of 1935 Correspondence, memoranda, reports 1935-1938
Clark Amendment of Social Security Act: Correspondence, memoranda, reports 1935-1936
Social Security in general: Correspondence, memoranda, and articles other then by Altmeyer 1935-1939
President Roosevelt: Correspondence, memoranda, studies 1935-1940
Box 3 President Roosevelt:
Correspondence, memoranda, studies 1941-1945
Speeches, and messages-
Excerpts from 1928-1945
Message on health, 1939; Wagner Bill S.1620; memos on bill 1940
Social security expansion, messages 1943, 1945
President Truman:
Correspondence 1945-1951
Speeches and messages-
Excerpts, statements, plans l945-1953
A national health program, message 1945
Special report on proposed expanded Social Security system for America 1946, Feb.
Social Security expansion, message 1946, Mar.
President Eisenhower:
Speeches and messages
excerpts and statements 1953-1954
National Health Conference, July, 1938 Sponsored by the Interdepartmental Com. to Coordinate Health and Welfare 1935, 1938
Box 4 Election platforms and related data re: social security 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 194, 1952, 1956, 1960
Election platforms and related data
1936 payroll inserts re social security 1936
Administrator Paul V. McNutt (FSA) Correspondence and related papers 1939-1943
Administrator Oscar Ewing (FSA) Correspondence and related papers 1947-1953
Administrator Oveta Culp Robby (FSA) Correspondence and related papers 1952-1953
Box 5 Administrator Oveta Culp Hobby (FSA)
Advisory Committee on Social Security Material for meetings 1953, Mar. 5, 17; Apr. 1, 15, 23; May 1, 22; Jane 5.
U. S. Employment Service 1939-1949
Transfer from Labor to Social Security Bd.
Reorganization Plan No. 1
Transfer to federal control. Dec. 19, 1941
"And Elsewhere" Proviso Language in 1942 Approp. Bill (H.R. 417)
Transfer from Social Security Bd, to War Manpower Commission (E.O. 9247 )
Transfer from War Manpower Commission to Labor Dept. (Truman's E.O. 9617)
Return to states from federal control, by Appro. Act. of 1947
Transfer to Social Security Admin. by Appro. Act of 1949
Transfer, with Unemployment Compensation, to Dept. of Labor. Reorg. Plan No. 2, 1949
Box 6 Unemployment compensation 1940-1949
Dismissal wages, 1944
Displaced workers, payment of transportation costs to, 1945
Disqualifications, 1944 Grant-in-aid, 1945
Liberalization of unemployment compensation, 1940
Supplemental unemployment compensation in post-war period, 1944
Servicemen's readjustment benefits, 1949
Statements to Ways and Means Committee re: unemployment insurance, 1946
Temporary benefits, 1945
"Possible uses of excess federal unemployment tax over expenditures for administration of unemployment insurance program." Prepared for Cong. Keefe, 1944
Vinson, material for quarterly report, 1945
Public Assistance:
Bane, letter to Frank Bane re: PA expenditures and recipients, 1951
Children's Bureau, reorganization plan, 1946
Confidentiality of records, 1951-1953
Governors' conference, 1951
Medical care committee, 1951
Medical care statement, 1950-1951
Ohio public assistance. Material on withholding of October 1938 grant.
Personnel proviso language material, 1943-1953
Public assistance and maladministration, 1939
Box 7 Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) 1937-1953:
Amendments to OASI 1949-1950
Civil Service and OASI coordination, 1940, 1951-1953
Combined withholding of social security and income taxes, 1950
Confidentiality of records, 1937-1953
Disability, permanent and total, 1949-1953
Disability, temporary, 1949
Effect of OASI limitations on public assistance programs, 1951
Extension of coverage, 1948-1949
Financing, 1949
Flexible retirement under OASI, 1953
Hospitalization benefits, 1951
Box 8 OASI and unemployment compensation for armed services, merchant marines, and civilian employees, 1940 and 1941 material.
Stamp book samples, 1937, 1944
Trust fund, 1950-1954
Work clause, 1952-1953
Flat pension plans 1939-1940
Flat Pension plans and double-decker plans 1949-1957
Curtis Committee hearings 1953
U. S. Chamber of Commerce proposal 1952-1953
Box 9 Miscellaneous:
Appropriations acts re: social security 1947-1949
Emergency maternity and infant care (IMIC) 1951
Health, Education, and Welfare, Dept. of Reorganization Plan No. 1 1953
International Labor Conference (ILO) 1951-1954
International Refugee Organization. Preparatory Commission of 1947 1947-1949
Medical care, 1944 Bureau memo No. 57 1944
Miscellaneous--opinion polls 1936-1949
Overall costs of social security 1949-1950
Private pension plans, tax status 1948-1949
Regional office and field relations 1938
Box 10 Social Security Board, personnel 1937, 1941
Social Security Board, reports to congress 1935-1937 1939
Social Security Board, Reorganization Plan No. 2 1945-1946
United Mine Workers retirement fund 1945-1954
Winant's resignation 1936-1937
Speeches 1952-1964
Articles 1952-1963
Box 11 Volume 1-5 Speeches, 1932-1951
Volume 6-7 Radio speeches, 1935-1951
Volume 8-11 Articles, 1919-1951
Volume 12-13 Statements and press releases, 1934-1952
Volume 14 Ms.: The Formative Years of Social Security
Volume 15 Book: Estudio Economico de la Legislacion Social Peruana y Sugerrencias para su Mejoramiento, Lima 1957, co-author with Romulo A. Ferrero
Container List
Mss 400-
1 1-9 General,1904-1972
2 1 Letters of congratulations received, 1934-1939
  2 Letters to the International Organizations Employee Loyalty Board, 1953-1954
  3-4 Letters Altmeyer received upon his retirement, 1953-1954
  5 Correspondence with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1964-1965
  6 Letters of sympathy received following Altmeyer's death.1972
   Democratic Party
2 7 Altmeyer's campaign for the United States Senate1956 
  8 Clippings1942-1955
  9 Correspondence1954-1972
  10 Democratic Advisory Council1960-1961
  11 Invitations1936-1965
  "The Formative Years of Social Security," University of Wisconsin Press, 1966
3 1 Correspondence with the University of Wisconsin Press1962-1970
  2 Notes used in preparation of the book.
  3 Reviews.
  National Health Insurance, Committee for National Health Insurance
  4 Correspondence1968-1972
  5-6 Minutes1969-1972
  7 Publications. General Reference Files.1970-1972
4 1 American Medical Association opposition to national health insurance1932-1965
  2 Cost and financing of national health insurance1969-1970
  3 Foreign national health insurance1950-1965
  4-6 General materials1941-1972
  7-8 National health insurance proposals1939-1961
5 1-2 National health insurance proposals 1962-1972
  3 National health insurance proposals, clippings1939-1972
  4 Woodcock, Leonard; speeches. Research papers on national health insurance, Corning, Peter A.1971-1972
  5 Correspondence with Altmeyer1966-1968
  6 Medicare: Government Health Insurance--A Case Study National health insurance continued) Research papers (continued)1968
  7 Falk, Isidore S., The Costs of a National Health Security Program and Their Financing; Poen, Monte1971
  8 Correspondence with Altmeyer,1967
  9 The Truman Administration and National Health Insurance, 1967
  Nonprofit Organizations
6 1 Citizens' Crusade Against Poverty, Commission on National Programs and Policy, 1965
  2 First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin, 1970
  3 Michael M. Davis Lectureship Fund, 1960-1964
  4 National Consumers Committee for Research and Education Inc., 1962-1969
  5 National Consumers' League, 1965-1968
  6-7 National Policy Committee on Pockets of Poverty, 1961-1964
  8 Scholarship funds, 1953-1973
  9 Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, 1957-1971
  Pension Plans--Foreign
7 1 Actuarial reports, 1964
  2-4 Correspondence, 1958?1960, 1964
  5-6 Data, 1957-1960
  7 Reports, 1964
8 1-3 Correspondence,1955-1961
  4-6 Correspondence,1964-1969
  7 Memoranda, 1957-1960
  8 Notes, n.d.
  9 Reports, 1955-1960.
  Pension Plans--United States
9 1 Coat and Suit Industry in the New York Metropolitan Area, 1953-1963.
  International Ladies Garment Workers Union
  2 Changes in regulations, 1967-1969
  3-4 Meeting records, 1964-1969
  5 Merged pension fund, 1963-1964
  6-7 Reference files, 1964-1972
10 1 National Association of Labor, 1964
  2-6 National Industrial Group, 1966-1972
  7 Public policy and private pension plans, 1962-1968.
  8 United Mine Workers, 1952-1969.
  Social Security--Foreign, Agency for International Development, 1961-1962
11 1 Background information.
  2 Iran--Trip and report.
  3 Pakistan-- Trip and report.
  4 Iran, 1955-1960
  Reference files
  5-7 General, 1945-1972
  8 International reports, 1959-1972
  9 Turkey, 1953-1961
  Social Security--United States
  Old Age, Survivors' and Disability Insurance
12 1 Claims, procedures, 1942-1968
  2 Criticism of, 1950-1972
  3 Criticism of, clippings, 1955-1962
  4 Equity considerations, 1949-1950
  5-7 Reference file, 1945-1972
  8 Social services, 1955-1957
  9 Statistics,1953-1971
  Reference files
 13 1 Administration, Altmeyer's views on, 1938-1966
  2-3 Clippings, 1942-1968
  4 Federal grants, 1940-1968
  5-6 General Materials, 1936-1969
  7 Opposition to Social Security, 1936-1965
  8-9 Reform proposals, 1970-1972
  10 Writings by Altmeyer, 1942-1963
 14 1 Salzburg (Austria) Seminar in American Studies, 1962
  2 Seminars at United States universities, 1957-1961
  3 Materials
  4 Outlines
  5-7 Speeches, 1904-1968
   Washington Years, 1933-1940
15 1 Clippings
  2 Correspondence
  3 Miscellaneous scrapbook items
  4 "Democracy and the Welfare State," 1943-1965
  5 Old Age, 1950-1972
  6-9 Poverty, 1949-1972
16 1-2 Unemployment, 1935-1970
  Proposed Solutions
  3 Food stamps, 1955-1972
  4 Guaranteed income, 1966-1967
  5-6 Public assistance, 1935-1968
  7 Unemployment Insurance, 1932-1972
  8 Workmen'sCompensation, 1949-1972
  Reference File
17  1  Addresses, 1954-64
  2 Miscellany, 1943-1971
  3 Publications, 1953-1969
  4 Reports, 1954-1968
  Social Work
  5 National Association of Social Workers, 1954-1967
  6-7 Social workers, 1948-1970
  Biographical Material
18 1  Appointments and resignations, 1927-1953
  2 Awards, 1952-1968
  3 Biographical sketches, 1939-1971
  4 Educational materials, 1910-1964
  5 Ethel May (Thomas) Altmeyer, 1905-1941
  6-8 Oral history transcript, 1967
19 1  Retirement articles, 1953
  2 Tributes to Altmeyer following his death, 1972
  3 Cards, 1913-1971
  4 Invitations--social, 1913-1952
  5 Non-specific materials, 1934-1961
  6-7 "Personal file," 1937-1954
  8 Social Security data and payments, 1946-1964
  Biographical Material
20 1 Invitations, 1937-1941. The Formative Years of Social Security, University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.
  2 Appointments and resignations, oversized, 1913-1944
  3 Awards, oversized, 1952-1968
  4 Educational materials, oversized, 1906-1931
  5 Ethel May (Thomas) Altmeyer, oversized, 1908