Geek Trivia

In The 1930s, There Was A Craze To Get Which Of These Things Tattooed On Your Body?

Tube TVs
Franklin Roosevelt's Face
Social Security Number
The Maximum Size Of Insect Species Is Limited By?

Answer: Social Security Number

Today, it would seem downright bizarre to people to tattoo their Social Security number on their body. Now that the ubiquitous number is a key component in opening new credit accounts, taking out loans, and the financial transactions people engage in all their lives, we purposely guard the number (and rightfully so) to protect against identity theft.

When the Social Security Administration was formed in the 1930s, however, the number wasn’t the financial skeleton-key it is now, but was just simply and clearly tied to the new Social Security program. You supplied the number when you applied for a job, money was added to your Social Security account, and that was that. There wasn’t even a consideration at the time for people to steal the numbers because what would that accomplish? If you stole a number in order to get work, all you were really doing was paying in extra for someone else.

Because the program was so new (and favored so strongly by the public), there was a certain excitement surrounding the launch of Social Security. People were instructed to keep their cards safe, but they also needed to keep the number handy at the same time. While some people simply memorized the number, there was a fad of sorts where individuals rushed out to get the number tattooed on their bodies. Some simply had the number itself—as seen here on the arm of Memphis-area engineer Jeon Reese Roofener—while others had the number embedded in a flag, Social Security Administration logo, or other embellishment. Even for those that wished to avoid getting a tattoo, there was a market for Social Security number related products. To this day, you’ll occasionally find signet rings and other jewelry in antique stores with Social Security numbers openly displayed on them.

Image by Everett Historical/Shutterstock.