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Merry Taxmas: 1920

Merry Taxmas: 1920

"Income Tax circa 1920." One of the happiest times of the year in our nation's capital, like Christmas and the Fourth of July rolled into one joyous orgy of giving. Excited citizens lined up around the block waiting their turn at the Internal Revenue Service, checkbooks in hand! National Photo Co. View full size.


Only Government Workers Paid

Until 1943 less than 4% of the U.S. population paid "Income" taxes. Of the 4%, Government workers; Federal, State, and local were the only subjects of the Income tax. The Victory Tax of 1943 (a truly voluntary tax) was the genesis to the delusion that private sector workers owe taxes too.

The tax code (IRC) didn't change in 1943, but after a generation of voluntary payers you'd never know.

[What a lot of delusional nonsense. "Patriots" do not drop the ball and make their tax-paying fellow citizens pick up the tab. In 1918, income tax was assessed on married couples whose household income was more than $2,000 a year, or single people making more than $1,000 a year. It had nothing to do with whether you were a government employee. In 1919, 5 million returns were filed. - Dave]


The following is taken from the website stanton_square cites:

"the rate does not take into account all possible exemptions and deductions, so taxes actually paid may have been lower than these nominal rates indicate."

I am no tax expert but I do know that the deductions allowed are the highest when the marginal tax rate is the highest. In other words the deductions allowed when the marginal rate is 90% are much higher that the deductions allowed when the rate is around 28% which is what many of us pay today.

Chapeaux and Taxes

I soooo wish that we still wore hats, they were so stylish! and yes, I could just die for that great looking powderpuff hat that the lady to the left in front has on too! Get in line!

There were no refunds in 1920

- because withholding of taxes from paychecks (one of the worst ideas in our history) did not begin until 1943.

[There was no withholding, but there were plenty of refunds given to people who overpaid their taxes or received adjustments. - Dave]

No Smoking

The spats guy talking to the fellow with the leather jacket in the front of the line, "Sir there is no smoking in the building"

Mr. Smoot

Mr. Smoot must have handled complaints, since he got to hide behind bars, out of the reach of throttling hands.


Front-of-line Gal: Cute, trying hard on the clerk.

Her Friend: Willing, but unlovely. Jealous of her friend's means. No taxes of her own to file.

Nosy Old Gal: Well, a nosy old gal

Smiling Fedora Guy: Checking out Front-of-line Gal. Getting a refund.

Top Marginal Rates

Graph of the Top Marginal Tax Rate over time (via Truth and Politics): Eisenhower was a Socialist!

Progressive tax

What I find amazing about this photo is that the line is integrated. During this period, segregation was still in full swing. I would have thought they'd have had a separate line for each race. How very progressive!

No love for the tax man then either.

As far as I've been able to determine, the top tax rate in 1920 was over 70 percent.

Some Things Just Don't Change

I got mine done early this year and I kept all my papers off the floor! I know that the tax rates have gotten a lot worse since then and I would venture to say that the politicians are MORE wasteful today as well.

I wish fashion would turn back to the hat for men. I think it must have been great when we all wore hats. What a stimulus for the economy too!

At first I thought that the three ladies in the front row were a three headed beast like the Knights Who Say Ni. Did anyone else have to take a second glance?


This is definitely 1920. You can see the March calendar on the wall with March 1st on a Monday, as it was that year. Tax day moved from March 1 to March 15 in 1918. It was not until 1955 that April 15 became the due date.

Although Sundays are holidays on the calendar (denoted with a dark coloring), Saturday is treated as a work day, just the same as Monday through Friday.

[It could also be 1926, calendarwise. - Dave]

Paper everywhere

I assume that the tax returns lying on the floor and in the garbage cans are the ones from citizens expecting refunds.


That bespectacled clerk! Love the spats! Like a character out of "Some Like It Hot"! Wonderful. And the lady in the foreground who looks like she's waiting for an answer about a deduction and the clerk is trying to come up with a reasonable no for an answer!


There's Calvin Coolidge, second behind the group of ladies, paying his taxes just like the rest of us, and none to happy about it either!

No withholding back then.

Things were made a little easier in the early forties when withholding for taxes was started.

My Preference

I liked Easter better.


Oh, oh, OH ... the hats on those three ladies in the front. Especially the one on the left, which looks like a big, black velvet powder puff. Oh, how I covet those hats ...

The old pro

I like the look of the balding clerk in the foreground. He's wearing a pretty good suit and spats(!), he's neatly stowed his hat and coat on the shelf below the counter, and he looks like he's patiently explaining something dead simple for the forty-eleventh time that day. I'll bet he raises african violets, plays a mean hand of bridge, and calls his wife "Ma."

Last Minute Throng

Washington Post, Feb 15, 1920

May Pay Income Tax in District

Deputy Collector at 1418 H Street Will Aid
in Making Up Returns.

Income tax returns may be filed by residents of the District at the office of the deputy collector of internal revenue, 1418 H street northwest, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day from February 16 to March 15. Collectors of internal revenue are mailing income tax forms for 1919 returns to persons who filed returns last year. Obligation to file returns, it is stated, is not removed by failure to receive the forms.

The tax may be paid in full or in four installments, the first of which must accompany the return form. Payment may be made in cash, money orders or by check. Form 1040A for reporting incomes of $5,000 or less and form 1040, for incomes in excess of that amount, may be obtained at the office of the deputy collector.

A corps of income tax experts will be available at 1418 H street to give assistance to taxpayers without cost. The office of the deputy collector will be open today from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Washington Post, Mar 16, 1920

5,000,000 Report Incomes

Last Minute Rush Packs Local Office Until Close at Midnight

Five million persons have made returns to the bureau of internal revenue for the 1919 income tax, according to estimates made last night by officials. It is believed that the returns for 1919 will show a substantial increase over those for the preceding year.

Tax offices in every large city were thronged yesterday by a last-minute rush to file returns before expiration of the time limit. Washington offices were packed from opening until the closing last night.

Gotta see a man about a horse

Man in pork pie hat and leather jacket: "I'll put a sawbuck down on Tea Biscuit in the third race at Pimlico."

Bald, bespectacled clerk: "Sir, I believe you have the wrong office!"

Smilin' Jack

Just picked a pocket or something. No other reason for a cheerful countenance... Imagine I'll see many of these same expressions at the post office tomorrow.

Steve Miller
Writin' checks someplace near the crossroads of America

Hat man

I love the mustachioed fellow in the bowler (near the front of the line) looking straight at the camera. He perfectly represents a certain kind of look.

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