Social Security Cards Issued by Woolworth

The most misused Social Security Number of all time was 078-05-1120. In 1938, wallet manufacturer the E. H. Ferree company in Lockport, New York decided to promote its product by showing how a Social Security card would fit into its wallets. A sample card, used for display purposes, was inserted in each wallet. Company Vice President and Treasurer Douglas Patterson thought it would be a clever idea to use the actual SSN of his secretary, Mrs. Hilda Schrader Whitcher.

The wallet was sold by Woolworth stores and other department stores all over the country. Even though the card was only half the size of a real card, was printed all in red, and had the word “specimen” written across the face, many purchasers of the wallet adopted the SSN as their own. In the peak year of 1943, 5,755 people were using Hilda’s number. SSA acted to eliminate the problem by voiding the number and publicizing that it was incorrect to use it. (Mrs. Whitcher was given a new number.) However, the number continued to be used for many years. In all, over 40,000 people reported this as their SSN. As late as 1977, 12 people were found to still be using the SSN “issued by Woolworth.”

The New York wallet manufacturer was not the only one to cause confusion about Social Security numbers. More than a dozen similar cases have occurred over the years. You can read more in the Social Security Administration’s web site at: https://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/misused.html.

One Comment

Dick, for the fun of it, I typed the ssn into ancestry and indeed the vast majority of listings actually did come as granted in Lockport or Little Falls Herkimer NY. Many of the listings actually came back to families that were issued sequential ssn’s ie: Dad is 0524, Mom 0525 etc….interesting learning tool to see how the ssn could reveal more family info in certain circumstances. Thanks for the info!

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