Research Notes & Special Studies by the Historian's Office

Research Note #5:
Locations Involving Early Social Security History

This Research Note seeks to identify locations (outside the White House or other standard government sites) in which early historical events involving Social Security have occurred.
1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 1795: Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine published his last great pamphlet, "Agrarian Justice," in which he proposed a comprehensive social insurance system for the new nation. This was the first serious proposal for something like modern social insurance.

2. Albany, N.Y., - February 28, 1929 - FDR Message to N.Y. State Legislature : As governor of N.Y., FDR proposes a commission to study the question of security against old-age, poverty, and want. FDR Quote: "No greater tragedy exists in modern civilization than the aged, worn-out worker who after a life of ceaseless effort and useful productivity must look forward for his declining years to a poorhouse. A modern social consciousness demands a more humane and efficient arrangement."

3. Long Beach, California - September, 1933: Dr. Frances Townsend announces the Townsend Plan for old-age pensions. This Plan soon became a nationwide mass movement and its popularity was one of the factors pushing President Roosevelt to introduce launch the Committee on Economic Security in the summer of 1934.

4. Madison, Wisconsin - 1934: The University of Wisconsin at Madison was the place of origin of several of the key intellectual founders of Social Security, including: Edwin Witte, Executive Director of the Committee on Economic Security (CES); Arthur Altmeyer, Social Security's first Commissioner; and Wilbur Cohen, SSA's first employer, later Secretary of HEW and prime mover behind the Medicare program.

5. National Conference on Economic Security - Hotel Mayflower, Washington, D.C., November 14, 1934: This was the nation's first "town-hall" meeting on Social Security. It was sponsored by the President's Committee on Economic Security. President Roosevelt addressed the conference leaders in the White House. FDR Quote: There are other matters with which we must deal before we shall give adequate protection to the individual against the many economic hazards. Old age is at once the most certain, and for many people the most tragic of all hazards. There is no tragedy in growing old, but there is tragedy in growing old without means of support. . . Organizations promoting fantastic schemes have aroused hopes which cannot possibly be fulfilled. Through their activities they have increased the difficulties of getting sound legislation; but I hope that in time we may be able to provide security for the aged--a sound and a uniform system which will provide true security.

6. New Hampshire - August 23,1935: John G. Winant, three-time Republican Governor of New Hampshire, became the first Chairman of the new Social Security Board.

7. Austin, Texas- October 14, 1936: First Social Security field office opened.

8. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania - October 29, 1936 - FDR Campaign Address: FDR speaks about a pay envelope campaign by opponents of Social Security, and the real purposes of the insurance provisions of the Act. FDR Quote: "This pay envelope propaganda has one clear objective -- to sabotage the Social Security Act... Get these facts straight. The Act provides two kinds of insurance for the worker... The first kind of insurance covers old-age... The second kind of insurance is unemployment insurance to help the worker and his family over the difficult days when he loses his job."

9. Baltimore, Maryland- November 9, 1936: Social Security's record-keeping operations were started in the Candler Building in Baltimore's harbor district.

10. New Rochelle, New York - December 1, 1936: Mr. John David Sweeney, Jr. of New Rochelle received the first Social Security number.

11. During May/June 1936: Social Security's 12 Regional Offices were opened in the following cities: Boston, Massachusetts; New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Kansas City, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California.

12. Cleveland, Ohio- March 1937: Retired motorman Ernest Ackerman became first person to receive a Social Security payment (a one-time payment).

13. Marietta, Ohio - July 8, 1938 - FDR Address on Popular Government: FDR provides an analogy on how Federal, State and Local government laws play the same role of insurer of security for the average man, woman, and child as did Army detachments in settling the Northwest Territory. FDR Quote: "Once old age was safe because there was always something useful which men and women, no matter how old, could do to earn an honorable maintenance. That time is gone; and some new kind of organized old-age insurance has to be provided."

14. Ludlow, Vermont - January 1940: Miss Ida May Fuller became the first person to receive recurring monthly Social Security payments.

15. Byers Peak Ranch near Fraser, Colorado- September 1, 1954: President Eisenhower signed the 1954 Social Security Amendments into law. This legislation established the "disability freeze" and was the precursor to cash disability benefits, which would be added to the law in 1956.

16. Truman Presidential Library- Independence, Missouri; July 30, 1965: President Lyndon Johnson and a delegation of Congressional leaders went to the Truman Library to sign the Medicare program into law. At the ceremony President Johnson signed up former President Truman as the first Medicare beneficiary.

17. Anniston, Alabama - September 1967: The first Social Security field office built with Trust Fund money opened. (All earlier offices were either leased space or were paid for out of SSA's administrative budget.)

18. San Clemente, California - July 1, 1972: President Nixon signed into law the bill creating automatic annual COLAs (Cost of Living Allowances) for Social Security.

19. Camp David, Maryland - October 30, 1972: President Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972 into law. Among other provisions, this Act created the SSI program.