Aug 26, 2022

The First Social Security Number

President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. It was a major part of his New Deal plans, most of which were strongly opposed by the Republican Party. Three and a half months later, on December 1, 1936, the first block of 1,000 records were assembled and were ready to start their way through the nine-step process that would result in the creation of a permanent master record and the establishment of an earnings record for the individual.

When this first stack was ready, Joe Fay, head of the Division of Accounting Operations in the Candler Building, walked over to the stack, pulled off the top record, and declared it to be the official first Social Security record. This particular record, (055-09-0001) belonged to John D. Sweeney, Jr., age 23, of New Rochelle, New York. The next day, newspapers around the country announced that Sweeney had been issued the first Social Security Number.

Mr. Sweeney was the son of a wealthy factory owner. The younger Mr. Sweeney had grown up in a 15-room Westchester County home staffed with servants. In an effort to learn the family business, Mr. Sweeney was working as a shipping clerk for his father at the time he filled out his application for a Social Security card. The whole Sweeney family voted for Republican Presidential candidate Landon in 1936, although John Jr. allowed that he liked the new Social Security program, even though he didn’t think much of the New Deal.

Ironically, John Sweeney died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 61 without ever receiving any benefits from the Social Security program. However, his widow was able to receive benefits, based on his work, until her death in 1982.