Your Social Security Record -- 1955

In December 1955 the Social Security Administration published a 16-page illustrated explanation of the procedures it used to maintain Social Security records on the nation's covered workers. It traces the process of assigning Social Security numbers (SSNs) and establishing the central record for each wage earner who is issued an SSN.

This booklet is a fascinating glimpse at the world of automated data processing circa the mid-1950s. The various pieces of equipment used in the processing of Social Security records are illustrated by "cutesy" drawings, which "personalize" in some way each of the major pieces of equipment.

Interestingly, with the exception of the electronic "Brain," the equipment and procedures in use at the end of 1955 had changed very little from those first put in place in the Candler Building in the Fall of 1936. However, this booklet was poised on the edge of a dividing-line of history. Very soon the electronic revolution, of which the "Brain" was SSA's advance-guard, would radically alter the processes and equipment used in the Social Security system.





cover of 1955 booklet



The figures of the machines, with the exception of the interpreter and the electronic calculating punch, that are used In this booklet were drawn by artist Boris Artzybasheff for a brochure entitled -"540" published by TIME INC. They have been reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers.



Social security for old age and for the surviving dependents of deceased workers is social insurance. Social security is one democratic way of insuring for your own future and for the future of your dependents. You pay a tax based on the earnings paid to you in employment covered by this social insurance plan. Your employer pays an equal amount. While technically these payments by you and your employer are called taxes, they might well be considered to be insurance premiums. The money goes into a special trust fund and you are given credit for the earnings on which you and your employer paid taxes, on an individual record kept for you in the Division of Accounting Operations in Baltimore.

Insurance payments will be made to you out of the Trust Fund after you reach age 65 if you are insured and have retired. To be considered as being retired you must be 65. Also if you earn more then $1,200 in a year, from any type of work whether or not covered by social security, some of the checks for that year may not be payable if you are under 72. If you are 72 or over then there is no limitation on the amount of money you may earn and still be considered as being retired. In the event of your death before age 65, your survivors will be paid insurance benefits out of the Fund. These payments, by laws are based on a formula applied to the average of your past earnings. Because of this the record of your account is kept so as to show the earnings on which you and your employer paid taxes rather than to show just a record of your tax or "premium" payments. That record is a very simple but a very complete one; but YOU for whom the records are kept, now number over 115,000,000 Americans.

Here we have one form of an American insurance system and it is administered in a characteristically American way. America's mechanical genius was called upon to help some of the ablest of the Government's experts in record keeping to handle this truly gigantic task of establishing and maintaining the insurance records for this tremendous number of people.

Machines that can literally read, compare, file, sort and print records were brought into use to do the job. In some cases machines were readapted to do the job. In other instances new machines were invented to aid in the work. With the development of electronics, more and more electronic equipment has been adapted or specially devised to aid in the vast amount of record keeping. Today the machines that do the work do everything but think and now technicians are experimenting with the possible use of machines that would seem to do just that and which will have memory cells as well.

Your insurance record starts when you apply for a social security account number. You fill out an application form in which you give identifying information about yourself and usually you give the form to a person in a Social Security District Office or you may mail it to such an office. The District Office person checks the completeness of the application and then fills in a pre-numbered social security account number card with your name and the date. The number on your card is transcribed on to your application. Maybe you are a little curious about the number. Maybe you wonder if it has any special significance. Well, it has. The social security account number always has nine figures. It is broken, by means of dashes, into three parts. The first part, called the "area" number, consists of three figures, the second part, known as the "group" number, is of two figures, while the third part, called the "serial" number, has four digits. Your social security number looks like this on your account number card:


1955 drawing of SSN card

The "area" number indicates the state in which you first filed your application for a social security account number. In the more sparsely populated states only a few "area" numbers have been assigned. In the more densely populated states many "area" numbers are assigned. New Mexico, for example, has, at present, only one area number assigned to it and that is the number "525". On the other hand the state of New York has been given eighty-five "area" numbers, ranging from "050" through "134."

There is no special significance, from the standpoint of geographical or other coded data, attached to the "group" or "serial" numbers. They are significant, however, in that they identify you as an individual. That particular series of figures in your social security number is never assigned to anyone else and it is always kept in your name. By separating the account number into three groups, it helps to reduce the possibility of transposing figures when the employer copies his worker's number onto his payroll records and when he copies it onto the informational portion of his social security tax return.

When you fill in your application for a social security number, you are setting into motion an assembly line of machines for setting up your social security records. Your application for a number and a copy of your social security account number card are forwarded to the Division of Accounting Operations in Baltimore by the Social Security District Office that issued the number. Their receipt is checked against an advice of transmittal and then they are given to a punch machine operator. She puts some of the information on your application into a code form in order that it may take up less space on your records. For example, your sex is coded. If you are a male you are given the code symbol "1" to indicate your sex whereas if you are a female your code for sex is "2". Your color and your date of birth are also coded and finally a code is given you for your last name.

The code for the surname, known as the "Soundex" code, classifies your name by the major consonants in it. The code consists of the initial letter of your last name, and three digits representing the first three significant consonants in your name. If you do not have three consonants in your surname after the initial letter then zeroes are added to your code to make up a three digit figure. In this system of coding the vowels and the letters "H" and "Y" are not coded. The other consonants are classified by sound. Like sounds are grouped together. After the coding has been completed, the machines take over and mechanical record keeping gets under way.

punch machine


The person who codes the information on your application also operates an alphabetical card punching machine, "Punch" for short. "Punch" is quite a gadget. On the surface he eyes the world with the face of a typewriting key board. However, no typewriter is he. His operator taps his keys and for every tap he pierces a card and cuts into it rectangular holes representing information in code form. Two holes in a column represent a letter and one hole represents a figure. The operator taps out your number, name, date of birth and other information about you from your


drawing of interpreter

application for a number into a card that is called an "Actuarial Card." Having placed the information about you in punch card form other machines can later file, sort, and print this information as it is needed.

First of all, your card is placed into a reading and printing machine called an Interpreter. Interpreter can't read Russian, but he can read the punched hole codes in your card and then he can translate the information back into English and finally print it in English on your card. Quite a boy, that Interpreter!

After Interpreter gets through with your card, it is given to a reviewer to check and to make sure that the information you gave has been correctly coded in the card and also agrees with your name and number as they appear on the copy of your social security account number card.

When your information has been checked, your card goes to an automatic reproducing machine which like an old mother hen turning out one egg after another, each just like the one before it. This machine makes an exact duplicate of your punch card and this, too, is given to our friend Interpreter to be translated into printed English and then to be placed in a file in its proper numerical position.

drawing of the hen


drawing of tabby

Your first punch card then goes on to a machine known as an Alphabetical Tabulator, "Tabby" is quite a character. She feels the holes in your card and reads them like a blind man reading Braille. Having read them, she decides you ought to see them too, so she prints all of the information onto a listing form. This listing goes through Tabby as a continuous form, but after Tabby has printed all the information about you and ninety-nine others who have just gotten social security numbers the listing is separated into pages which are bound by means of post binder, into books to form a numerical register of all of the amounts that have been established.


drawing of sorter

"Tabby" isn't through with your card, however, your card goes into the machine again and again "Tabby's" fingers read the information punched into your card. This time "Tabby" prints the information on a thin strip of paper-covered wood. This wooden strip is placed in a panel according to the Soundex code for your surname and the panel is hung in a rack. One hundred and nineteen strips besides yours can be placed in a single panel and up to sixteen hundred panels can be hung on a rack. Those racks of so-called "flexoline" strips form a Visible Index of all of the accounts that have been established and of all cross-references to those accounts. Your strip joins that of some one hundred and fifteen million other account number holders and of all the cross-reference strips needed for them to make up the largest visible index in the world--over one hundred and fifty million file entries.

While "Tabby" reads your life history, an automatic microfilm camera photographs your original application for a social security number on 16 millimeter film. That film is placed in a film file in another building as a safeguard against fire, or destruction by any other means, of the original record. If your original application is ever damaged, lost or misfiled, a duplicate can quickly be prepared from the microfilm. Your original application for a number is then sent to a file to be placed in its correct numerical position.

Your punch card again goes to the alphabetical tabulating machine and "Tabby" once again reads it. "Tabby" prints the information on a card which is sent to the Unemployment Compensation Commission of your State, together with the duplicate of your account number card. Your State can then set up a record for you for the purpose of unemployment insurance, using the copy of your account umber card to make a numerical index, and the card prepared by "Tabby" to form an alphabetical file. Some State agencies, however, use a punch card for this file.

Your punch card then goes to a holding file. Later this file is used to furnish statistical data about the people insured under Social Security.

drawing of punch card

So there now is on file your original application for a number, a microfilm copy of that application, an entry in a "Numerical Register of Accounts Established," an entry by name code in a visible index, a statistical punch card, and a master punch card (called an "Employee Annual Summary Card') for your account. In addition, your State has been furnished with two card forms to set up unemployment insurance records for you. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Sounds somewhat expensive, too, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. Millions of records like yours are set up each year. "Punch", "Tabby", and the rest practically do the work automatically. The result is that the entire cost for setting up your records from the time your application for a number in received in Baltimore, including the costs of the forms themselves, is only 13.1 cents per account -"Believe it or not."

A number of records are set up for you and they contain quite a lot of information about you. Later more information about your wages and employment will be added to those records. This information is of personal interest to you and usually you wouldn't want other people to know about it. The confidence you have placed in the Social Security Administration by giving it this information is respected. You


have its pledge that the information will be kept confidential. No unauthorized person in allowed to have access to your records. The employees of the Social Security Administration are forbidden under heavy penalties to violate this rule under any circumstances. The information about you and your employment history is in safe hands. Only you, or one of your survivors, who may be entitled to benefits on your account, or a third party authorized by you may see these records.

In addition to the records set up for you, it is necessary for your employer to register with the Social Security Administration. He files an application for an "Employer's Identification Number." On this application he gives his name, the name of his business enterprise, his business address, the type of organization being operated, the number of people working for him, the nature of his business, such as the service he renders or the goods he sells, or the material he manufactures. He also tells when he went into business and how he acquired his business. This application by your employer is forwarded to the district office of the director of internal revenue. There the application is checked to the files to determine if your employer was previously assigned an identification number. If a number was assigned, the old number is reactivated; if not, a new number is assigned. The numbers are assigned in numerical sequence in the order that the forms are processed. After assigning a number, an addressograph plate is embossed to show your employer's name, address and identification number. This plate will be used in the future by the director to address tax returns to your employer for each quarter in which payments are due.

As a part of the registration, the director uses the plate to prepare a notice of the number assigned, which is mailed to your employer, and a form letter on the letterhead of the Social Security Administration District Office, which is sent to your employer as a notice that the local District Office is ready to help him with any questions or problems he may have in connection with the social security program. Also, the addressograph plate is used to print your employer's name and identification number in numerical sequence on a register page which is forwarded with the second page of all other employer applications, included on the same register page, to the Social Security administration. The first page of your employer's application is filed by the collector.

When the second page of your employer's application and the related register of employer identification numbers assigned are received by the Social Security Administration, the register page is filed as a permanent numerical register of employers assigned numbers in the collector's district from which it was received. The application is then given to a coding clerk who gives it a code to show the geographical location of the employer by State and by county. Another code is given to show the type of industry in which your employer is engaged.

Your employer's application is then routed to a punch machine and "Punch" takes over the job of putting all of the information about your employer in coded punch hole form in a card. The operator taps out on "Punch's" keyboard your employer's name, the identifying number that has been given to him, the code for his location and type of business, the time he went into business and how he acquired the business. These, too, are in code. When "Punch" has completed your employer's card it passes on to the Interpreting machine. "Interpreter" reads the coded punch holes, translates them into English and prints the English translation across the top of your employer's card.


The card is then sent to another machine, technically known as an alphabetical verifying machine but it might be better known as the "Eye." The "Eye" looks like our old friend "Punch" but his job is to check up on "Punch." If a hole has not been correctly punched the "Eye" will discover it when his operator taps out the correct information on his keyboard. If the "Eye" discovers an error, your
employer's card is repunched correctly.

drawing of the Eye machine


After making sure that all your employer's information has been correctly punched into the cards the card is routed to an automatic reproducing machine, the "Hen" to make up a duplicate card. That duplicate card goes to an interpreting machine and "Interpreter" prints the punched information across the top of the card.

The first card is used to supply the Bureau of the Census with statistical information for its census of the births and deaths of businesses throughout the country. The second punch card is for use in preparing future statistical tabulations in connection with the wages reported by your employer for you and your fellow employees.

If you are a household worker, your employer is assigned an identification number in the manner described above, with the exception that it is not necessary for her to file a regular "Application for Identification Number." She can just notify the director that she wants to report your earnings for social security purposes. The director will then prepare and file an addressograph plate for her in a special file so that she will be sent a simplified form each quarter for reporting your earnings. The Division of Accounting Operations will include your employer in their records with the forms prepared from the director's addressograph plate but will not prepare punch card records for her.

It may be that your employer is a State or local government organization, which has elected to be covered under Social Security by special agreement. In this case, your particular organization will be listed with the others in your State when the State's agreement with the Social Security Administration is made. The directors of internal revenue do not collect the social security contributions for these employers so the list of organizations in your States which will report for social security purposes is sent directly to the Division of Accounting Operations. Employer identification numbers are assigned by the Division of Accounting Operations in a special series and records similar to the ones for regular employees are set up. Notice of the identification number assigned and the forms for reporting your earnings each quarter will be forwarded to your employer by the Division of Accounting Operations instead of the director of internal revenue. Also, your employer will pay the contributions to a Federal Reserve Bank, instead of to the director of internal revenue, for the credit of the Secretary of the Treasury and the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund.


You may wonder as to just what the employer identification number is. It is nothing more than a nine digit figure broken into two parts. The first two digits are separate from the last seven. The first two figures thus separated indicate the code for the internal revenue district to which your employer must pay his social security taxes and submit his wage reports. There are some 66 internal revenue districts in the United States, (68 including Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands) each servicing a fixed section of the country. Your employers in filing his application for an identification number, must file through the office of the director who services the geographical area in which he is located. The last seven figures are not significant from the standpoint of showing a geographical location or any other information. They are issued in straight serial number order as the applications for identification numbers are received. They are significant in that a particular serial number exactly identifies the employer to whom it is assigned and it is never used for any other employer.

The use of identifying numbers for both employers and employees enables the Social Security Administration to correctly identify reporting employers and the employees whose wages they report. Every three months the directors of internal revenue have the addressograph plates for all employers in their districts withdrawn from file and they use these plates for heading tax return forms known as Forms 941. Appended to the Form 941 is another form

drawing of Schedule A form

known as a Schedule A. When the employer receives this combination tax and wage information forms he lists on the Schedule A portion your account number, your name, and the amount of earnings that he paid to you during the preceding three month period. He also lists the some information concerning your co-workers who were employed by him during that period. He indicates on the form the total amount of wages paid by him as an employer and in the event that he needs more than one page to show these earnings records, he shows a sub-total for each page.

On the Form 941 itself, your employer also shows the total earnings that he has paid during the quarter, the amount of social security taxes that he deducted from his employees' earnings and the amount that he has to pay as an employer, as well as any adjustments that he may make. Some other forms for reporting are also used. For example, if you are a household worker your employer will use a special Form 942. If you are self-employed you will use a part of your income tax return. However, all the forms are handled in about the some way. If you are self-employed you will make your own report; if not, your employer will send in the forms.

He sends the combination tax return and earnings report to the office of the director of internal revenue with his tax payment. In the director's office a check is made to make sure that the total earnings figure is the same on both portions of the form and to insure that the tax deductions and remittances are correct. When this has been done, the informational part of the return is detached from the tax return form.

The tax return form is kept in file in the director's office; the informational return, together with similar schedules from other employers, is forwarded to Baltimore to the offices of the Division of Accounting Operations. These informational returns are assembled in groups that are called "blocks. A block will ordinarily contain the wage reports for about 11,000 employees. A record of the transmittal of the block is made. This transmittal record accompanies the block to Baltimore to advise the Baltimore operations of the employers' returns that are contained in the block. When the block of informational returns is received in Baltimore, it is checked to the transmittal record to make certain that all the employer reports have been received. These blocks are of two kinds: single-page blocks for employers who require only one page, and multi-page blocks for employers who require more than one page. All reports for household employers are in single-page blocks. This separation into single and multi-page


blocks helps the Division Of Accounting Operations to put the blocks of reports through operations.

After the reports have been examined an operator uses "Punch" to prepare a card for your employer. This card shows your employer's name, identifying number and some statistical information about him. The card for your employer and his wage report form is then sent to a large unit of punch machines.

Here operators use "Punch" to prepare individual wage cards for you and for your co-workers. Using your employers earnings report the operator will tap out the information on "Punch's" keyboard and "Punch" will prepare an individual card for you showing your social security account numbers your initials and name, the amount of earnings reported for you by your employer, and the number of the page of his report on which he submitted the information about you. In like manner the operator will prepare similar cards for all of your co-workers.

After "Punch" has converted your earnings information into punched hole form, a statistically selected portion of the wage cards are sent to the "Eye." The "Eye" is a verifying machine and it checks the accuracy of the punching in your wage cards. Only about 10 percent of the cards are checked by the "Eye." The purpose of the "Eye's" operation is to check on the accuracy of the operators of the punch machines. By verifying the cards immediately after they have been punched, it is possible to determine how many errors the "Punch" operators are averaging. The error average of a very good operator is less than 1.3 percent. If their average is found to exceed 2.25 percent all their work will be sent to the "Eye" and they will be given corrective training. This operation is a check on the accuracy of the operators of "Punch" and is also a verification of the mechanical accuracy of all punch machines. All errors made by any "Punch" operator in punching your name, your social security number or your wages will be picked up automatically and corrected in the succeeding operations when the cards are handled by "Tabby" and "Choosey."

When "Punch" and the "Eye" are through with your earnings report and all the others for your employer then your card and the cards for your co-workers and the card for your employer will be forwarded to a reproducing machine (the "Hen"). The "Hen" will be used this time not to prepare new cards, but to read the information on your employer's card as to his name, his identification number, the period for which he submitted the wage report, the accounting quarter and the establishment number for your employer. After the "Hen" has read this information from your employer's card, it will automatically punch the same information into your wage card and into the cards for your co-workers, so that finally there is a card which records in punched hole form your number, your name, your employer's number, a part of your employer's name, the period in which your employer reported, the amount of earnings that he reported that he had paid you in that period, the code for the type of employment in which you are engaged--if agricultural, household, federal, foreign, in the Virgin Islands or in Puerto Rico--and the particular page of his report on which he showed the earnings information about you. The completely punched cards are then passed through an interpreting machine; the "Interpreter" reads the punched holes in the card, translates them, and prints this information across the top of the card. All the punch cards for you and your co-workers and your employer's card are then fed through an electrical tabulating machine. Your employer's card goes through the machine first, and the machine reads from the card the total amount of earnings reported by your employer. Then your earnings card and the earnings cards of your co-workers are read by the machine and they are totaled. The


the total earnings for you and all your coworkers with the total reported by your employer. If those totals are exactly the same, it means that your employer correctly added your wages and those of your follow workers. Also it means that the operators of the punch machines correctly punched the information as to your earnings into the cards for you and the other employees working for your employer. If the totals do not agree exactly, a check is made to determine from the subtotals, what page of your employer's report contains the error and then each item on that page is checked to determine if the error is one made by the punch operator in preparing the card or by your employer in adding the earnings. If it is an operator's error, it is quickly remedied by repunching the card. If your employer made a mistake then your employer's report will be corrected and it will then be sent through the succeeding operations. If your employer made a mistake amounting to $25.00 or more it is necessary to correspond with him. This is done through the office of his director of internal revenue. He is told of the error and asked to submit an adjustment report. When your employer's report has been verified and all errors that may have been found are corrected, your punch card, recording the earnings paid to you by your employer, and the cards for your co-workers go to a holding file.

Your employer's report and all the reports in the same block are kept in sequence order and are microfilmed. Your employer's punch card is placed with that of other employers. These cards are arranged at the end of each quarter in employer identification number order by the "Sorter" and listed by "Tabby" to show such information as: employer identification number, reporting period, block number, employer name, number of employees, and total earnings. These listings are also microfilmed and placed in file. By means of the information on these two sets of microfilms, your employer's report can be located readily in the event that it must be referred to. The employers' reports are later destroyed; the employers' punch cards are used for obtaining statistical data relating to employment.

By means of a tabulating machine ("Tabby") it is possible, after sorting your wage card and that of your co-workers to establish control as to the amount of earnings, that have been recorded and these accounting control figures are used in order to balance out subsequent operations. Later all the earnings cards for you, your co-workers, and all other employees are sorted by your social security account numbers into numerical order and a listing is made of the cards by means of the tabulating machine. This listing is later microfilmed and the listing destroyed. The microfilm can be used for reconstructing a card in the event that a card is misfiled, lost, or mutilated in later operations. Then your earnings card and those of your co-workers go to "Choosey," the collating machine. At the same time the master cards for your account and those of other employees go to "Choosey." Both

drawing of Choosey machine


your earnings card and your master card are fed into the collator. "Choosey" reads the account number and the name on the card for your wage report. At the same time another part of the machine reads the account number and name in your master card. Then "Choosey" compares its reading of your earnings card with that of your master card. If "Choosey" says it has exactly the same name on the card, and the same account number, then it will place your earnings card behind your master card. If there is some difference in your name or if it finds that you have been reported with the wrong account number, then your earnings card will be put to one side by the machine while your master card goes into the regular file.

Those cards that "Choosey," the collating machine, finds to be in error as to the spelling of the name, or to have been reported with the wrong account number, will be checked to find your correct number. In the event that your correct number cannot be found in the Division of Accounting Operations because of faulty reporting, then your employer will be asked to recheck and furnish the correct social security number for you. If the cards do not match because of a simple change of your name, or if your name has been misspelled in making up the earnings report, or in preparing the punch card for your record, that fact will be discovered in the check to your established record. The card will be corrected, if necessary, and the card will then be filed behind the master card for your account.

This whole process of receiving the earnings reports, of putting them in coded punched hole form in cards, of checking the correctness of your employer's report, and of matching the card for your quarterly earnings record with that of the accounts established for you, is performed every three months. At the end of the year you and most of the regularly employed workers will have four cards, representing earnings reports, filed behind the master cards for your accounts. Then all these cards for you and for the employees who have accounts established within the same area, will be withdrawn from file and sent to a special tabulating machine for posting.

In posting the record of your earnings for the year, a machine is used that is a special form of tabulator. It combines the ability to read information in code form with the ability to print that information, and also with the ability to determine from the cards whether or not your earnings reports are helping you to meet the insurance requirements that are in the Social Security Act. It is able to correctly analyze your earnings, it can take totals of those earnings to show the entire amount that has been paid to you under the Social Security Act, and at the same time show the total earnings credited to you for each year. It will print all this information on a listing.

It will show first of all a summary of all earnings that have been reported for you until the current year for your account, and then it will print in detail from your punch cards the record of the earrings that have been reported for you for each quarter of the past year. It will show your social security number, your name, the name or names of your employers, the amount of earnings that they paid to you and when they paid them. While it is doing this, the posting machine will check and analyze these earnings reports to see whether $50 or more for each three month period was posted to your account. Reports of self-employment income are processed in much the same manner except that the number of quarters in which $100 or more of self-employment income has been earned, are recorded.

The reason for this is that your eligibility for retirement benefits and the eligibility of members of your family to dependents' or survivors' insurance benefits depend an your "insured status."


The yardstick for measuring whether or not you are insured under the law is the "quarter of coverage." A quarter of coverage is a three-month period beginning January 1, April l, July 1, or October 1-- a calendar quarter--in which you were paid $50 or more (or in which you were credited with $100 or more in self-employment income covered by the law).

If your net income from self-employment is $400 or more for a full taxable year, you will have four quarters of coverage for that year.

The posting machine not only makes these determinations but it will also indicate whether or not you received earnings in excess of the maximum in a year, because credit cannot be given to your account for such excess. The maximum is $3,000 for years before 1951, $3,600 for 1951 through 1954 and $4,200 thereafter. It will determine whether or not employers have been late in reporting earnings for you so that a check will be made to insure that you get full credit for all delinquent earnings reports that have been made by your past employers for your account. It will list all this information concerning your record. The machine will then take a series of totals so as to determine and print on your record the total earnings that have been paid to you to date and credited to your account, the total earnings for the current year and for the past three years, the total number of quarters in which you have been covered for insurance purposes; and the total number of years of earnings of $200 or more for years prior to 1951. (In some, relatively few, cases each such years before 1951 may raise your basic benefit amount by one percent.)

All this information, in addition to being printed on your account record, will also be punched automatically by another machine that is a part of the posting tabulator. This other machine is a summary punch machine and it is very much like the reproducer (the "Hen") in many ways. It automatically punches into a new master card your account number, your name, a record of all the earnings that have been credited to your account to date, a record of your earnings in each of the last three years and the current year, and the number of times in which earnings have been delinquently reported for you. Other information that will be necessary to completely adjudicate your insurance account and pay to you the proper amount of benefits is also shown. After the record has been posted, a check is made to the accounting controls to make certain that the correct amount of earnings have been credited to your account.

After all your earnings have been posted to your account and the earnings for all the other folks with social security account numbers in the same thousand series as you have been posted, the total earnings for all 1,000 accounts will be checked to the accounting control figure of the total amount of earnings that have been reported during the year for those 1,000 accounts. There must be an exact balance down to the last penny, otherwise a check for the error must be made and it must be corrected. After the check of the posting totals has been completed, the posted information is then photographed and recorded on 16 millimeter microfilm.

During the next year the same operations are performed for every quarter your employer submits an earnings report for your account. After it is received by the Division of Accounting Operations, it is put into punch card form and matched to your master card and the punch card for your earnings is interfiled behind your master card. During each quarter the same processes will be performed and finally at the end of the year your detailed earning's reports will be posted to your account. Then they will be photographed on microfilm, the microfilm for the second year's posting's will be spliced to the microfilm for the first year's postings. Each year this process is repeated.

Finally, when you apply for your insurance benefits at your local office, that office requests a certification of your earnings record from Baltimore. In Baltimore, the spool of microfilm on which your earnings history is recorded in detail, is withdrawn from the file. The master card on which the summarization of earnings information credited to your account is shown, is also withdrawn from files together with any unposted earnings cards. The earnings information is summarized to date and as to each calendar year after 1950, and


listed on a form and three cards are prepared to show pertinent data relating to the account. These cards are run through the "Brain" the electronic calculating machine. It's in two parts. One is an electronic calculating machine, the other is a summary punch machine. Cards can be fed into the latter, the information read off the cards and into the calculating machine. That machine follows instructions as programmed for it by a special wiring board which can be changed at will. The computations can be made at an almost incredible speed. Using five digit numbers, for example, it computes at the rate of 2,174 additions or subtractions, 79 multiplications, or 65 divisions--in one second! However, the "Brain" has to slow down to put its answers in punch card form. Even so, the "Brain" can multiply or divide with absolute accuracy and punch out its answers at the rate of 6,000 cards per hour.

drawing of the Brain machine


The "Brain" computes the average monthly earnings and the Primary Insurance Amount for earnings from 1937 to date and from 1951 to date with and without "dropout" of the years of low or no earnings. This provides a trial benefit computation which is examined by a claims examiner. The factors are reviewed and adjusted where necessary, and the information is transcribed onto the form on which the earnings had been summarized. If the review indicated that earnings from 1937 to date could provide you with a higher primary insurance amount than earnings from 1951 to date or if you are not eligible for the latter computation, the clerk will check the detailed listing of earnings to provide the exact data needed for giving the highest benefit amount and that amount will be computed with the aid of tables and entered on the form. The form is then certified and forwarded to your district office where you filed your application for benefits. There your claim is adjudicated, setting forth the amount of benefits that are payable.

The "Brain" calculates and punches into the cards containing the computation factors, its answer as to your average monthly earnings and your primary insurance amount. After the "Brain" has processed the cards and made its computations, the cards are then fed in backwards so that the "Brain's" calculating electronic impulses will travel in reverse order and the results will again be punched into your card .

If the "Brain"made an error or if any difference appears in the two calculations of your benefit, then it will punch a special symbol in your card calling attention to the difference in the calculation.

The complete record is then sent to an area office, which controls the payment of claims. There, your name is entered upon the beneficiary rolls and the Treasury Department is notified monthly to forward to you, or to you and your wife, if she is also entitled to benefits, or to your surviving beneficiaries, an insurance benefit check.

It all sounds somewhat complicated when you first see the operations that are performed in establishing and maintaining your account. It probably still sounds complicated when you read about it, but with the aid of "Punch", "Tabby", and all the other special machines that are used to do the actual work of record keeping, it is possible for your government to establish an account for you at a cost of only 13.1 cents. It only costs the Social Security Administration 3.8 cents to handle your wage report that is received from your employer from the time of its receipt in Baltimore until it is processed and posted to your wage record. The average cost of mechanically maintaining a complete wage history for one year and posting to it all the detail wage reports received during the year amounts to only 13.6 cents.

Even if your employer makes a mistake and gives the Social Security Administration the wrong social security account number in making his report for you, and it is necessary to check the files and finally in some cases to communicate with your employer, the entire cost of handling that item will only average 22.7 cents. If he


 fails to show your number at all on his report for you, and it is necessary to communicate directly with him and obtain your social security account number, it will only cost 20.5 cents for handling that item. Of course, the reason for these exceptionally low cost figures in the administration of the record keeping work is due to the fact that American ingenuity has provided the mechanical means for doing the job. From "Punch", who translates English into coded holes in a cards to "Tabby", who can read, select, add or subtract such information, print it and summarize it, or to "Choosey," the collator, who can automatically read information in two cards and compare the information in both cards and then either interfile or separate the two cards depending upon its instructions, the entire system of keeping your insurance record has been completely mechanized. Maybe tomorrow that same ingenuity that developed the "Eye" and the "Hen" will help to further reduce the cost of this record keeping work through the use of electronic computing machinery and advanced photographic recording processes.

Of course, while the various operations may appear to be complicated to one who first sees or hears of them, the use of machines has so simplified the handling and the processing of the records, that the only real problem is one of volume. Over 53 million wage reports are received every three months for the 115 million aocounts that have already been set up and some 786 machines, with the aid of 4,721 people, work night and day in Baltimore handling this tremendous volume of reports.

You may be interested in some more of the statistics connected with this job of keeping your record. If you are, you will find on page 14, a section that is entitled "Highlights" which will give you more detailed statistical information. If you are interested in some of the other details relating to the work of handling the accounting operations, you will also find additional information concerning the method of coding information on your application for an account number, partioularly with relation to the Soundex system of coding surnames. Those who are interested in production details will find below a description of some of the accounting and production control records that are kept in order to ensure the smooth flow of work along the assembly lines from the time of its receipt as an earnings report from your employer until the time it is credited to your account.


The Division of Accounting Operations has to account for every penny in earnings that is reported for credit to your account. To do this it establishes and maintains the necessary records to reflect the status of work in each operation and thus to control effectively a continuous flow of work through successive operations. This is accomplished chiefly through the medium of an accounting card mechanically punched with information relative to each unit of work processed in each of the major operations. By means of these punched cards it is possible to determine, for example, the number of employer reports received daily, batches of work (known as blocks) which have been unduly delayed in operations within the Division, the amount of work processed each day in each operation, the amount of work to be done in each operstion, the location of blocks of work in operation, and similar control functions.

Your earnings report from your employer is put in a batch with the reports of your coworkers and others. These batches or units of work are called blocks. As each unit of work is processed through various operations, it is accompanied by operation cards. These operation cards contain various kinds of information useful in preparing reports and determining the status of units of work. The operation cards generally show the identifying block number, the number of items in each block, the total amount of wages, the date the block was completed in the operation, and other related information. The operation cards are prepared for each series of


operations and contain the control information needed for the series, for example: one set of operation cards is prepared for the receiving operations; one for the counting, examining, batching of employer reports, for the punching and interpreting of wage cards, and the balancing of field blocks of employer reports; another for the sorting, balancing, and filing of blocks; another for collating; another for the posting to employee accounts. As each unit of work is completed in an operation, the corresponding operation card is transmitted to a control section.

In the control branch the data in the operation cards are summarized and combined with the totals for previous days in order to show the "to date" status of production. A report is then prepared by means of a tabulating machine to show the production in each operation each day, the accumulated production for the period, and the items in process in each operation. By means of other control cards the information on this report is supplemented to show the number of incompletely and incorrectly reported wage items that are found and the number of these that are correctly identified each day and other related information.

After the daily production report is prepared, cards for key operations are retained in file. This file is supplemented by registers which also show the completion dates of blocks through a number of key operations. By means of the registers and the operation cards it is possible to determine the operation being performed on each unit of work; to notify operating units when blocks have been unduly delayed in operation, or when blocks must be expedited in order to close out an accounting period; to check if blocks were lost in transits; and to secure related information.

Reports as to the production of individual clerks are also prepared. The source of information for such reports is again the operation card. From information entered on the face of the card by the operating unit (such as clerk's number, units, shift, production, and hours) reports are prepared by tabulating machines relative to clerk, unit production, and production rates. Such reports are used to make up an annual report on the efficiency of each clerk, as is demanded by Civil Service and for various statistical purposes.


As of June 30, 1955 there were over 115,000,000 accounts established and there was a total of 150,487,117 names in the National Employee Index. This difference is due to the inclusion of cross-reference names, railroad retirement accounts, and names of people receiving retirement or survivor's insurance benefits.

With the existing machine and personnel setup, well over 840,000 accounts are processed through every operation every working day.

The following machines are necessary for the task of establishing and maintaining wage records:

11 Printing Key Punch Machines
387 Punching Machines
58 Sorting Machines
69 Collators
35 Reproducers
37 Interpreters
50 Verifying Machines
16 Alphabetic Accounting Machines
46 Gang Summary Punch Machines
6 Electronic Statistical Machines
2 Electronic Calculating Punches
26 Accounting Machines
42 Numerical Accounting Machines
1 Accumulating Reproducer

A total of 786 electric electric accounting machines of all kinds are used by the Division of Accounting Operations.

A competent operator can convert into punch-card form approximately 3,000 employee wage items per eight-hour work day. The punching operation is the slowest of all the machine operations performed in the installation. Punched cards can be arranged in numerical sequence at the rate of 1,000 cards a minute for each digit of the numbers to be put in order. Cards can be tabulated, as many totals as desired being taken from numerical data punched in the card, at the rate of 150 per minute. Punch cards can be reproduced with common information, or punched information in one set of cards can be reproduced into another at the rate of 100 cards per minute. The collating machine compares the punching in one set of cards with that in another set, and interfiles, or distributes cards in matched or reject pockets at a rate of speed varying from 240 to 480 per minute for both feeds. Average of


9,500 accounts are posted by a single operator in one eight-hour day.

For every account that has been established, there are the following records for the wage earners:
Employee Application for an Account Number (Form SS-5)
Employee Actuarial Card
Employee Annual Summary Card
Cross-Reference Employee Actuarial Card (If required)
Entry in the Numerical Register of Accounts Established
Annual Wage Listing
Flexoline Strip (for inserting in the visible index)
Microfilm Copy of SS-5
Form for the State Unemployment Compensation Board

If the employee is known by more than one name, a cross-reference employee punch card is prepared, and there is a flexoline strip for each of the names, all bearing the same account number.

As of June 30, 1955, 22,624 file cabinets were being used to hold all of the material necessary for the establishment and maintenance of wage records.

The Baltimore office every day receives 18,000 requests for duplicate account cards.

By microfilming the 115,000,000 original applications for account numbers, at a photographic reduction of 24 to 1, rolls of film which contain up to 2,500 images per roll are filed in standard filing cabinets. The earnings record information of wage earners in covered employment is also put on microfilm and as a result only 283 standard filing cabinets are needed to house these film records on 113,955 reels.


When your application for a social security number is received by the Division of Accounting Operations some of the information. that you gave on your application is put in code form in order that it may take up less room on the master card for your account and also to make it easier to prepare statistical data from your card.

For example, instead of punching your card to show the words "male" and "female" a code is used to show this information, "Male" is coded as "1", "Female" is coded as "2." Color is also coded. Whites are coded as "1", negroes are coded as "2" and all other color classifications are coded as "3." If you are a female and white, then you would be given code "2" to indicate that you are a female and, in the proper column of your card, code "1" to indicate that you are white. If you are male and a negro then your sex code would be "l" and your color code would be "2". If you are a male Chinese your codes would be "l" and "3" for sex and color.

Your date of birth is also coded in that it is converted into figures. If you had been born on March 6, 1915, for example, your date of birth would be coded to read "030615." A two digit code is used for the month and consequently March becomes "03". A two digit code is used for the day and as a result the sixth becomes "06". A two digit code, showing just the last two figures, is used for the year and 1915 consequently is read as "15".

The most important code used is the Russell Soundex code for classifying surnames. The Soundex system is the basis for a method of filing where one files according to the first letter and the major sounds in a person's surname. Under this system every surname can be reduced to the first letter of the name and three figures. The coding by figures is done by classifying the consonants in your name according to their sounds. For the purpose of this coding the vowels "A", "E", "I", "O" and "U", and the letters " W", "H", and "Y" are omitted, and coding is confined to the phonetic grouping of these major consonants in your name. For example, the letters "D" and "T" sound very much alike, hence they are coded with one code figure, a "3". "M" and "N" also sound alike and they are given only one code figure -- "5". "L" has a distinctive sound and is coded alone as "4". "R" too


has a distinctive sound and it is coded as "6." The letters "B", "P", "F" and "V", however, are somewhat alike in sound , being labials, and they are all coded as "1". The "ka", "guh" and "suh" sounds, including all of the sibilants, such as "C", "G", "J", "K", "Q", "S", "X" and "Z" are all grouped together as "2". The code grouping therefore, is as follows:

Letters Code Symbol
B, P, F, V
C, G, J, K, Q, S, X, Z
D, T
M, N

In coding we eliminate the vowels and take the first letter of the name and the code symbols for each of the first three major consonants. In the event that there is a double consonant without an intervening letter only the first consonant is coded. In applying this rule we consider consonants by the code grouping. Therefore a "C" followed by a "K", without an intervening letter, would be considered as a double consonant (they both are coded as "2") and we would only code the first letter, the "C". This rule also applies to the initial and second letter of the name. For instance if we started to code the name "Schneider" we would take the first letter "S" as part of the code. Then we would start to code the "c" as the first consonant and discover that it was in the same consonant group as the "S" without an intervening letter. We would consider it a double consonant and not code the "c". Going a step further with this example we wouldn't code the letter "h" at all nor the vowels "e", "i" and "e". We would have left three consonants to code, the "n", the "d," and the "r", which would be coded respectively as "5", "3" and "6" so that we would have the final code as "S536" for the name Schneider. Schneider can be spelled in some twenty-nine different ways, yet by using this method of coding the name will always be coded as "S536." Let's take a look at a few examples, strike out the non-coded letters and see what the resulting code is. Among other variations the name may be spelled Snyder, Sneider, Snider, Schniter, Sneidor or Sniedar. By striking out the non-coded letters and coding those that are left we get:


If the name to be coded does not have three significant consonants then zeros are added to give a three digit code. For examples, with the name "Carr" we have the "C", the first letter, as part of the codes the "a" is not coded and the double consonant "rr" is coded as "6." To make a three digit code we add "00" and the code becomes "C600." With a name such as "Ray" where there are no significant consonants we use the first letter and three zeros so that "Ray" becomes "R000." Other examples are:



W 000

B 600

B 650

drawing of Candler Building