Arthur J. Altmeyer
A young Arthur J. Altmeyer in the years before he joined Social Security.
SSA History Archives.
Arthur Altmeyer was one of the seminal figures of the Social Security program in America. He was part of the President's Committee on Economic Security that drafted the original legislative proposal in 1934. He was a member of the three-person Social Security Board created to run the new program, and he was either Chairman of the Board or Commissioner for Social Security from 1937-1953. Although he believed that public administration was a vitally important activity, he was also one of the principal conceptual and philosophical spokesmen for social insurance in America, and much of the policymaking during Social Security's founding decades was formulated by Altmeyer. Along with a mere handful of others, Arthur J. Altmeyer is responsible for the Social Security program as it exists in America today.
This collection of material consists of published articles and interviews and the text of speeches that Mr. Altmeyer delivered--primarily during his tenure with the Social Security Administration. Some of the speeches have never been published, and some of the articles have been out of print for 50 years.
These documents represent 30 years of Arthur Altmeyer's work. The are, in a limited sense, his legacy. But his true legacy lies elsewhere. The institution that is the Social Security Administration, and its proud 62-year history of service to generations of Americans, are Arthur Altmeyer's true legacy, for he, more than any other single person, shaped the institution that has administered Social Security over six decades. The character of SSA, its traditions of service and administration, reflect the values and aspirations that Arthur Altmeyer instilled into it from the earliest days of its existence. Although an important policy theorist--as is reflected in these documents--Altmeyer was first and foremost an administrator. He viewed efficient, fair and honest administration as a high calling. And it was to this calling that he gave the labor of his life. This is his true legacy.
|Altmeyer's papers and records are in the archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison, Wisconsin. (Duplicates of many of Altmeyer's most important papers are also available in SSA's History Archives.)|
- OASIS magazine interview with Altmeyer -- 1966 (PDF)
- Review of Altmeyer's memoir by William Mitchell -- 1966 (PDF)
- Commissioner Ball's Bulletin re: Altmeyer's Death -- 1972
- Ball's Eulogy at Altmeyer Memorial Service -- 1972
- Congressman Kastenmeier's Remarks on House Floor -- 1972
- "Arthur Altmeyer: Mr. Social Security," Remarks by Wilbur Cohen -- 1973
- The SSA Headquarters Building is Renamed in Altmeyer's Honor -- 1973
- Arthur Altmeyer Oral History Interviews 1965-67
- A Brief Biography of Altmeyer -- 1997
- Altmeyer Video Clip -- 1936
- Speech-- THE NEW SOCIAL SECURITY ACT -- 9/3/35
One of the earliest official addresses by Altmeyer soon after becoming a member of the Social Security Board.
- Press Release -- THE FACTS ABOUT OLD-AGE BENEFITS -- 10/26/36
These remarks by Altmeyer on the eve of the 1936 presidential elections were designed to counter some of the arguments against Social Security being advanced by the Republican presidential candidate, Alf Landon.
- Speech -- PROGRESS AND PROSPECTS UNDER THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT -- 5/25/37
This speech, delivered the day after the Supreme Court decision regarding constitutionality of the Act, not only provides a report of progress in implementing the Act, but also discusses several key issues facing the program. Of particular note is Altmeyer's discussion of the pay-as-you-go financing issue.
- Speech -- THE FARM FAMILY AND THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT -- circa July 1937
In these remarks Altmeyer attempts to assuage the resentments of farmers for not being covered by the new Social Security Act. He argues that they benefit anyway in many indirect ways.
- Article -- SOCIAL SECURITY AND THE SOCIAL SERVICES -- March 1938
This essay by Social Security Board Chairman Arthur Altmeyer is an expression of the philosophy of social insurance as conceived by the founders of Social Security.
- Article -- THREE YEARS' PROGRESS TOWARD SOCIAL SECURITY -- August 1938
This essay is a comprehensive overview of the successes of the Social Security Act in its first three years of operation.
- Article -- SOCIAL INSURANCE FOR PERMANENTLY DISABLED WORKERS -- March 1941
In this article Altmeyer provides a virtual blueprint for how a disability program might work under Social Security. His vision is remarkably prescient of the program that would be adopted more than 15 years later.
- Testimony -- STATEMENT BEFORE SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON OLD AGE SECURITY -- July 1941
In this testimony before Congress Altmeyer gives a detailed report of the status of the programs under the Social Security Act, including many statistics. He also again makes his case for a dramatic expansion of the nation's commitment to social needs.
- Article -- DESIRABILITY OF EXPANDING THE SOCIAL INSURANCE PROGRAM NOW -- November 1942
In this article Altmeyer argues that there are special advantages to expanding the Social Security program during the War --both to the program and to the war effort.
- Speech -- REMARKS ON THE AMERICAN FORUM OF THE AIR -- 1/17/43
In this speech Altmeyer advocates the expansion of Social Security to cover all workers, calling such a system a "safety net."
- Speech -- REMARKS AT THE TOWN HALL MEETING OF THE AIR -- 2/11/43
In this familiar speech Altmeyer advocates the expansion of Social Security.
- Speech -- THE EXTENSION OF SOCIAL SECURITY AS A MAJOR FACTOR IN CHILD WELFARE -- 3/3/43
In this speech Altmeyer discusses the provision of broad social welfare programs in meeting the needs, especially of children, in the War and Post-War periods.
- Speech -- NEEDED CHANGES AND EXPANSION OF SOCIAL SECURITY -- 3/12/43
In this speech Altmeyer argues for the federalization of unemployment insurance and for the expansion of Social Security to small employers through a stamp-book system. He also repeats his oft-stated theme that social insurance and social assistance are both "earned rights."
- Speech -- SOCIAL SECURITY--SAFETY NET OR FEATHER BED? -- 4/2/43
In this speech Altmeyer repeats many of his familiar themes about expanding social welfare programs and makes his strongest pitch for federalization of unemployment insurance.
- Article -- THE ADVANTAGES OF UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE AS PART OF A UNIFIED NATIONAL SOCIAL INSURANCE PROGRAM-- May 1943
In this article Altmeyer focuses entirely on his push for federalization of unemployment insurance, citing the work of the Committee on Economic Security and even the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Act to support his argument. He also emphasizes again his point that the immediate post-War period will be an especially urgent time to implement this new federal system.
- Speech -- INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN ACHIEVING SOCIAL SECURITY -- 6/12/43
In this speech Altmeyer provides a simple and accessible summary statement of his philosophy of Social Security, and he makes his case that this philosophy has international application.
- Speech -- FINANCING HOSPITAL CARE THROUGH SOCIAL INSURANCE -- 9/15/43
In this speech Altmeyer envisions the expansion of Social Security to cover hospitalization--anticipating Medicare by more than 20 years.
- Testimony -- REASONS WHY THE FEDERAL OLD-AGE AND SURVIVORS INSURANCE CONTRIBUTIONS SHOULD NOT BE FROZEN AT THE PRESENT RATE OF 1 PERCENT EACH ON EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES BUT SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO INCREASE TO 2 PERCENT EACH AS NOW PROVIDED IN THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT-- 10/14/43
In this testimony Altmeyer argues against the temptation to delay scheduled increases in Social Security tax rates.
- Statement-- POLICY QUESTIONS INVOLVED IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NATIONAL SYSTEM OF DEMOBILIZATION UNEMPLOYMENT ALLOWANCES AFTER TERMINATION OF MILITARY SERVICE-- 10/14/43
In this statement Altmeyer analyzes various methods for providing unemployment insurance to servicemen after the War.
- Statement-- PROTECTION OF FEDERAL OLD-AGE AND SURVIVORS INSURANCE TO MEMBERS OF ARMED FORCES -- 10/25/43
In this statement Altmeyer discusses how to provide Social Security coverage for members of the armed forces.
- Testimony-- TESTIMONY OF ARTHUR J. ALTMEYER BEFORE SPECIAL SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE OF WARTIME HEALTH & EDUCATION (COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION & LABOR) --1/28/44
In this testimony Altmeyer details the corrosive effects of inflation on fixed Social Security benefits and is implicitly making the case for what will some day become COLAs (cost-of-living-allowances).
- Speech-- HOW DISTANT IS THE GOAL OF SOCIAL SECURITY? -- 8/3/44
In this speech Altmeyer is preaching to the choir (a convention of the Fraternal Order of Eagles) and giving a general overview of the progress of Social Security.
- Speech-- PERSISTENT PROBLEMS IN SOCIAL SECURITY-- 9/14/44
In this speech Altmeyer discusses the respective roles of social insurance and "social assistance" and the ways in which they had been converging in modern history. While discussing the problems with both forms of social provision, he also criticizes universal flat rate pension schemes.
- Speech-- NEXT STEPS IN SOCIAL SECURITY-- 11/22/44
Of particular interest in this speech is Altmeyer's announcement that the Board, on its own motion, will start doing benefit recomputations for retirees who have gone back to work in the war effort, in those cases where their additional work may qualify them for a higher benefit.
- Testimony-- A STATEMENT ON THE AUTOMATIC INCREASE IN THE TAX RATE UNDER THE FEDERAL OLD-AGE AND SURVIVORS INSURANCE SYSTEM-- 11/27/44
In this testimony Altmeyer chides the Congress for its proposals to delay needed tax rate increases.
- Radio Address-- GOALS FOR SOCIAL SECURITY-- 2/11/45
In this radio address Altmeyer repeats his standard pitch for expanding Social Security--in simple terms for the radio audience.
- Article -- THE FIRST DECADE IN SOCIAL SECURITY -- August 1945
In this article Altmeyer addresses the philosophy of social insurance and how it has expressed itself in the first decade of America's experience with Social Security.
- Speech -- SOCIAL SECURITY IN POST WAR AMERICA-- 9/26/45
In this speech Altmeyer restates his standard arguments about the value of the Social Security Act in combating the effects of the post-war surge in unemployment. The argument had a special urgency at this time since in the 10 days following V-J Day 1.8 million workers lost their jobs.
- Speech -- HOW CAN WE ASSURE ADEQUATE HEALTH SERVICE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE?-- 12/2/45
In this speech Altmeyer speaks to a physician's group and tries to persuade them that government involvement in health care financing is necessary and is not a threat to their prerogatives.
- Speech -- THE PRESIDENT'S NATIONAL HEALTH PROGRAM -- 5/2/46
In this speech Altmeyer again tries to convince a skeptical audience that government involvement in health care financing is in everyone's best interests.
- Speech -- THE NEED FOR SOCIAL SECURITY IN THE POSTWAR WORLD-- 9/16/46
In this brief speech Altmeyer gives an accessible and simple version of his vision for the expansion of social insurance in the immediate postwar period.
- Speech -- HEALTH, WELFARE AND RETIREMENT PLANS IN RELATION TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY PROGRAM-- 1/23/47
In this speech Altmeyer makes his case for a comprehensive, federal, system of social insurance. In this variation on his familiar theme, he emphasizes both the practical advantages of such a scheme and rebuts the arguments of opponents.
- Article -- WAYS TO IMPROVE OLD-AGE AND SURVIVORS INSURANCE -- December 1947
In this article Altmeyer presents to the Advisory Council the Social Security Board's recommendations for improvements in the program. The work of this Advisory Council led to the all-important 1950 Amendments.
- Article -- CASTING UP ACCOUNTS IN SOCIAL SECURITY -- December 1948
In this article Altmeyer discusses the administration of the various programs under the Act which require Federal-State cooperation.
- Speech -- SOME ISSUES FACING SOCIAL WELFARE TODAY -- December 1951
In this speech Altmeyer discusses social welfare and its central role, in his view, in the establishment of democracy throughout the world.
- Article -- SOCIAL WELFARE TODAY -- April 1952
In this article Altmeyer again returns to one of his most persistent themes--the failure of America to meet its social welfare needs.
- Letter -- ALTMEYER'S FAREWELL MESSAGE TO SSA EMPLOYEES -- 4/10/53
A standard good-bye, yet it reveals Altmeyer's deeply felt commitment to the Social Security program.
- Speech -- SPEECH OF DR. ARTHUR ALTMEYER -- 2/29/60
In this speech Altmeyer talks about the changes still needed in the OASDI program (and about which he would prove to be remarkably prescient) and his familiar theme of the shortcomings of unemployment compensation and public assistance in America.
- Speech -- "IF" -- 11/16/60
In this unusually candid and informal speech Altmeyer discusses some of the politics behind the development of the Social Security Act and tries to explain why the program's designers made the choices they did.
- Speech -- REMARKS AT SSA AWARDS CEREMONY -- 5/21/63
In this speech Altmeyer recounts some of the behind the scenes stories of the development of the Social Security Act.
- Article -- THE DEVELOPMENT AND STATUS OF SOCIAL SECURITY IN AMERICA -- 1963
In this extended essay, Altmeyer reviews the development of social insurance programs over the last 30 years. This is one of his more extended analytical pieces tracing the development of social insurance and again reviewing what he considers to be the unfinished business of social insurance.
- Article -- SOCIAL WELFARE IN THE UNITED STATES -- 9/64
In this article Altmeyer provides a broad overview of the development of social welfare policies in America.
- Speech -- SOCIAL SECURITY--YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW -- 12/9/65
In this speech Altmeyer discusses some of the politics revolving around the creation and development of the Social Security Act.
- Speech -- ADDRESS BY ARTHUR ALTMEYER--MANAGEMENT SEMINAR -- 6/14/67
In this speech Altmeyer recounts events surrounding the start-up of Social Security and its early development. (Third-party account of speech.)
- Speech -- SOCIAL SECURITY AND THE HUMAN TOUCH -- 8/14/68
Altmeyer's remarks during ceremonies celebrating the 33rd anniversary of Social Security.