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Icons of Progress

The Social Security System

  • H. J. MacDonald 

    H. J. MacDonald was the head salesman on the Social Security account—a deal he worked on for two years before it was awarded to IBM. MacDonald also functioned as liaison between Social Security officials, Thomas Watson Sr. and IBM engineers, successfully marshalling the development of IBM’s influential 077 Collator.

  • Thomas J. Watson Sr. 

    Thomas J. Watson Sr.
    Leadership foresight to retain staff for “the world’s largest bookkeeping job.”

    During the Great Depression, while businesses across the US were shedding jobs, Watson made the bold move not to cut one employee. Instead, the lines would run at full capacity, even if no one was buying the accounting machines, and the excess inventory would be stockpiled in warehouses. In doing so, Watson positioned IBM as the only company capable of responding to the US government’s vast need for accounting, tabulating and sorting machines.

  • Fred Carroll 

    Born in 1869, Fred Carroll joined IBM—then the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company—in June 1916. When he retired 40 years later, he left a record of outstanding technical achievements. Fred Carroll played a significant role in automating “the world’s largest bookkeeping job.” The special machine he designed for the Social Security Administration was an ingenious combination of pneumatic, mechanical and, for the first time in IBM history, photoelectric sensing apparatus. Carroll was not an electronics engineer, but he had the foresight to recognize the potential of electronically controlled devices at an early date. Fred Carroll received his first patent in 1896—the first of 97 patents he would receive. By the end of his life in 1961, he had rightfully earned a reputation as one of IBM’s most prolific inventors.

  • Frances Perkins 

    Frances Perkins
    “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.”

    Frances Perkins was born on April 10, 1882, in Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1902, and Columbia University in 1910 with a master’s degree in sociology. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt appointed Ms. Perkins as his Secretary of Labor, a position she held for 12 years, making her the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the United States. As Secretary of Labor she played a key role in writing New Deal legislation, including minimum wage laws. However, her most important contribution came in 1934 as chairwoman of the President’s Committee on Economic Security. She was involved in all aspects of the reports and hearings that ultimately resulted in the Social Security Act of 1935. Following her government service career, Perkins continued to be active as a teacher and lecturer until her death on May 14, 1965. Bio republished from the Social Security Administration History website.

  • Arthur J. Altmeyer 

    Arthur J. Altmeyer

    Arthur Altmeyer was born in DePere, Wisconsin, attending the University of Wisconsin where he received his bachelor’s, master’s, doctor of philosophy and honorary doctor of laws degrees. He was a high school teacher and principal before serving as an economist and statistician in Wisconsin. In 1934, he was named chairman of the Technical Board appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Committee on Economic Security, which drafted the original Social Security legislation. Next, he became a member and then chairman of the Social Security Board, a position he held until 1946, when he became the Social Security Administration’s first commissioner. In 1953, Altmeyer retired from Federal service and returned to Wisconsin to lecture, write, and serve as advisor to various labor groups and pension organizations.