The Infamous Dog-Tag

The publisher William Randolph Hearst was a fervent enemy of President Roosevelt and the New Deal. All the newspapers in the Hearst chain were expected to regularly publish unfavorable stories about New Deal programs. On the eve of the 1936 presidential election Hearst sought to undermine support for Social Security with allegations that workers would be required to wear "dog-tags" with their Social Security number and would be forced to fill-out questionnaires probing for personal information. In fact, neither allegation was true. However, the "dog-tag" story did have a basis in fact.

When considering ways to assign Social Security numbers, one proposal was to issue metal nameplates, not unlike military "dog-tags." Commissioner Altmeyer vetoed this idea as soon as he heard about it. This did not, however, stop the Hearst syndicate from reporting it as fact. During the early discussion of the metal nameplate idea, one company eager for this potential government business (the Addressograph Corp.) went so far as to prepare a sample I.D. tag in Commissioner Altmeyer's name. Altmeyer kept this sample "dog-tag" in his desk drawer throughout his career with SSA, and he donated it to SSA after his retirement. So the one and only Social Security "dog-tag" ever issued is now on display in the History Room at SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

photo of dogtag

Commissioner Altmeyer 's infamous "dog-tag"