John David Sweeney, Jr.
A Sweeney receives the first ever U.S. Social Security Number!
When the first United States Social Security Numbers arrived in the Baltimore administration center in 1936,
they were grouped in blocks of 1,000 and the master records were created. 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.
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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 was the first point in the process where there was enough control to designate
an official first card--it would have been impossible to try and identify the first card
typed in one of the 1,074 typing centers around the country.) This particular record,
(055-09-0001) belonged to John D. Sweeney, Jr., age 23, of New Rochelle, New York.
day, newspapers around the country announced that Sweeney had been issued the first SSN. It
would be more accurate to say that the first Social Security record was established for John
David Sweeney, but since master records were invisible to the public and the Social Security
card was a very visible token of the program, the newspapers overlooked the nuance.
And so John David Sweeney, Jr. is the closest thing we have to the first person to have
received a Social Security card--although his status is more symbolic than actual.
John Sweeney was the son of a wealthy factory owner, and 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 Sweeneys were Republicans and the whole family voted for Landon in
1936, although John Jr. allowed that he liked the new Social Security program even though he
didn't think much of the Rosevelt's New Deal. 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.
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