The Social Security Program
Frameworks for America's Past
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Originating Page

The Social Security

   The Social Security system was created by Franklin Roosevelt and Congress in 1935.  It was designed to make sure that workers would have money to live on when they reached old age and retired.

   Social Security is basically a government-run insurance program.  Workers and businesses all pay taxes into the system each year.  If a worker reaches retirement age, he or she collects a monthly check from the Social Security system for as long as he or she is alive.

   The system also gives a monthly check to the surviving spouse and children if a worker dies or becomes disabled.

The Social Security card below was issued in 1936, the first year of
the program.  It belonged to William Mason, who was a master brick layer
in Philadelphia when the Great Depression hit.  He moved his family to
Alexandria, Virginia, in 1937 to try to find work.

The rest of the story

   William Mason did find work in Virginia.  He died before reaching age 65, however, so his wife received monthly payments from his Social Security account until her death.
   In 1973 his granddaughter, named Jeanne, was going to school at Mary Washington College.  On Valentine's Day that year she met your teacher, Mr. Burns, who was a student at another college nearby.

   They were married in 1974, and yes, they both also have Social Security cards.

Now, back to the 1930s . . .

The photo below shows a Social Security office in Baltimore in 1937.  Millions of
working Americans had to be registered, assigned a number, and sent their card.

Below:  An employee at a Social Security office records names,
numbers, and work information.  It was all done on paper and cards -
there were no computers at that time. 

The Social Security system
has grown even larger

   The Social Security program still exists in the U.S. today, but is much larger than it was back in the 1930s.

   For most Americans over the age of 65, the money it provides is an important part of their total retirement income. 

   Social Security also provides income for spouses and children when a worker becomes disabled or dies.

  Employees (workers) and their employers (businesses) still pay a federal tax into the Social Security system to pay for the program.

   The Social Security poster on the right features a popular actor from an old TV series, Star Trek.  It makes the point that it is very easy to sign up for the program.  Most children are now registered at birth.


Social Security card photo by David Burns.  Some numbers on the card have
been changed.  Social Security office photos are from the Library of Congress. 
The black and white poster image is from the National Archives
and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.  The color poster image
is from Wikipedia and the Social Security Administration.
Some images have been resized or edited for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2016 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.