The Simplicity Of The First Federal Income Tax

The First Income Tax Form Of 1913 And How Much The IRS Collected

1913 tax form pg 1

click to enlarge

It was 100 years ago that the 1040 individual tax form many Americans dread filling out was introduced.

One thing is for sure, it was a lot simpler to file taxes in 1914 than today.

Pictured above is the 1913 1040 tax form which was due March 1, 1914.

With only three short pages to complete and one page of instructions, for most people who had to file, the average time to complete their taxes would take about an hour.

Had to file is an important term here, because the first $2,500 or $3,333.33 of income in 1913 for single and married couples respectively, was exempt. After 1914 the rate was $3,000 and $4,000 respectively. Considering very few Americans made more than $1,000 per year in income, the vast majority of Americans were exempt from paying any tax.

According to the Department of Labor in 1913, the average family household income was $827.

The few professional or salaried professions that typically earned more than $2,500 per year were bankers and brokers; lawyers; physicians; railroad officials; superintendents of manufacturing companies; clergymen; professors and tutors and steamboat officials. Their tax was 1% of their income up to $20,000!

This class of taxpayers made up a very, very small portion of the 92,000,000 people in the United States.

In 1914, The World Almanac reports 357, 598 returns were filed. The IRS ended up collecting a little over $28 million from individual returns. $12 million of that was comprised of filers paying the normal tax rate of 1%, that is people making over $2,500 but less than $20,000 per year.

In 2014 according to the IRS, the average time it takes taxpayers to do their return is 13 hours, with four hours devoted to actually completing the forms. Record-keeping takes an additional six hours and tax planning two more, the IRS says, and an extra hour is thrown in for miscellaneous tasks.

Will we ever see a return to the simplicity and ease of filing taxes? Don’t hold your breath waiting.

Below are the other pages of the original 1040 form (click to enlarge).

Page 2 1913 tax form

Page 2 1913 tax form

Page 3 1913 tax form

Page 3 1913 tax form

Page 4 instructions 1913 taxes

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1 thought on “The Simplicity Of The First Federal Income Tax

  1. Brian

    Judging from the types of income and deductions listed, the form was clearly geared toward the wealthy. In fact, I once heard that in the early days of the income tax, having to pay it was something of a status symbol.


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