This weekend I was looking through the safe that holds all of my most important documents, like family birth certificates, insurance policies and the secret recipe for mom’s sauce, when I ran across my Social Security card.
Now I’ll wager that, if you poll a room full of people at a triple-keg Super Bowl party, more than half wouldn’t be able to tell you the license plate number of their car — and that’s before the kick-off.
However, if you asked those same folks to recite their Social Security number, every last one of them could do it forward and backward — even after the kegs were empty.
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered if there was any rhyme or reason to how Social Security card numbers are determined.
Well … wonder no more.
While you were out enjoying your weekend, I was researching the real story behind our Social Security numbers — and here’s what I found out:
1. Since 1936, over 420 million different Social Security numbers have been issued.
2. Over 5.5 million new numbers are assigned every year.
3. The first three digits of a Social Security number are known as the area number. Area numbers assigned before 1972 reflect the state where you applied for your number; otherwise, they are based upon the Social Security card application mailing address zip-code.
4. Some people believe the next two digits, called the group number, helps identify a person’s race. It doesn’t.
5. The two-digit group number was actually created as way to organize Social Security Administration filing cabinets into sub-groups to make them more manageable.
6. The last four digits on a Social Security card are serial numbers that are issued consecutively within a group from 0001 to 9999.
7. Area numbers used to be assigned geographically with the lowest numbers in the northeast and the highest in the northwest — but that practice changed after a new randomized assignment methodology officially went into effect in 2011.
8. Based upon the original assignment criterion, one would naturally expect a Maine resident to have the lowest Social Security number ever issued. However, New Hampshire was ultimately given the 001 area number designator so that social security number 001-01-0001 could be assigned to Social Security Board Chairman John G. Winant, who was a three-time governor of the state.
9. Winant eventually declined the honor of having the lowest social security card number. As a result, it eventually found its way to Grace D. Owen of Concord, New Hampshire.
10. Officially, the first social security number issued was 055-09-0001 and it was assigned to John David Sweeney.
11. Sweeney died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 61; ironically, he never received a single penny of Social Security benefits.
12. In many cases, invalid Social Security numbers can be easily spotted. That’s because cards have not been issued where the first three digits are 000, 666, or higher than 772. Valid cards are also never issued with the middle two digits or the final four digits all zeros.
13. In 1938 a sample Social Security card with the number 078-05-1120 was inserted into new wallets manufactured by the E. H. Ferree company in Lockport, New York. Unfortunately, that number belonged to Hilda Schrader Whitcher, the secretary of an E. H. Ferree company vice president who decided to use her official number on the sample cards. Nice guy, huh?
14. Not surprisingly, more than 40,000 people have since claimed Mrs. Whitcher’s Social Security number as their own at one time or another.
15. Mrs. Whitcher was eventually issued a new number, but not before being questioned by the FBI. They wanted to know why so many people had her number.
16. If you object to certain digits in your Social Security number you can appeal for a new one, but only if you can prove your concerns are firmly rooted in your religious beliefs or cultural traditions.
17. Social Security numbers are not reused after the card holder dies.
18. Even though numbers aren’t reused, the Social Security Administration says the current numbering system is capable of providing enough new numbers for “several generations into the future.” That means Social Security numbers will still be available well past 2030. Even if the benefit money won’t.
Photo Credit: public domain
(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on January 24, 2011)