Vintage 1960s IRS video introduces anxious Americans to wonder of “computers”

A simply wonderful vintage video from the Internal Revenue Service in the early ’60s, showing the magic of new “computers” the IRS is using to process tax returns.



Apparently, when the IRS began using computers in 1961, people were pretty freaked about it.  More from NetworkWorld:

From today’s National Archives blog on the topic: “When the IRS began using computers in 1961, many people were horrified. An article in Harper’s Magazine titled, “The Martinsburg Monster: A True Horror Story for Taxpayers,” described how computers limited the possibilities for refunds. A tax expert then envisioned a scenario in which erroneous notices forced people to overpay, or $100 million dollars in unwarranted refund checks were issued.

The shift towards computer technology also made Internal Revenue Commissioner, Mortimer Caplin, a well-known and controversial figure. One reporter accused Caplin of “bringing Big Brother into everyone’s life in the form of the Martinsburg Monster.” In February 1963, Caplin was the cover story of Time magazine, in which he supported the changes made under his administration. Controversy surrounding the IRS computers was not limited to water cooler conversations, it was reflected in the mass media.”

The video is a riot. The people, the clothing, the hairdos.

Look at this data entry device.


And this lady. The glasses!


And this guy’s suit on the left is far cooler in the video – it’s that cool skinny 1950s look.


 And the hair – it’s Annette!


Naturally, the women are busy typing…


…While the men are the “executives.”irs-men

I did find it interesting, however, that there was a black woman among the white women doing data entry – for 1953, at least that job was integrated, and the IRS had no problem showing that it was.

It’s a fun video.


“This is the real heart of the Martinsburg monster.”

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19 Responses to “Vintage 1960s IRS video introduces anxious Americans to wonder of “computers””

  1. MPA in Houston says:

    HEY….I think I recognize those chairs in the ‘computer room’ photo. They’re still using them!!

  2. Bob Munck says:

    system 360 “Green Card”

    Oh, sure; me too. But do you remember how EDMK works? Or what the tiny utility IEFBR15 does? (note the numbers)

    I still have a deck of the macros I wrote to do IF-THEN-ELSE, FOR, DO WHILE, and other structured programming constructs. Also a program that operated on an assembler listing to show those segments properly indented.

    We used assembler to write Hypertext and new task scheduler and paging systems for CP/67, but then did the next version in an IBM secret language called PL/S. It was about half-way between assembler and PL/1, a very nice language. I don’t think IBM ever released it.

  3. TX-BOB says:

    I still have my system 360 “Green Card” the folded one (with lots of tape) with the instruction set on it. Some place in my attic are the 80 column punch cards too, next to the paper tape from the GE time share terminals. Good old days….. assembly programmers ruled!

  4. W H says:

    Yes–far right.

  5. Bob Munck says:

    In your guts you know he’s nuts.

  6. goulo says:

    “In your heart you know he’s right!” :)

  7. Cletus says:

    This is from the late 60’s, 1968 to be exact (tax forms referred to tax year 1967). I learned on a lot of the very same equipment in the early 80’s. Nothing in IT lasts that long anymore.

  8. Bob Munck says:


  9. Bob Munck says:

    backwards compatible

    A lot of companies are running code that they haven’t a prayer of moving to another architecture. We saw that in the Y2K bru-ha-ha when they had to spend humongous amounts of money and time just to change a field from two digits to four. They have stuff that they don’t even dare to recompile, because it will break and the original programmer is in a nursing home. I hope that no one is still running programs in 7094-emulation mode, but wouldn’t count on it.

    Heck, I have vast quantities of /360 assembler code that I’d like to run again. The original Hypertext, for example. Of course it’s stored on a bunch of those little gray 5″ distribution tapes. Why couldn’t I have moved it to an 8″ floppy when I had the chance?

  10. Naja pallida says:

    The scary part is, the current IBM System z mainframes are still backwards compatible to the System/360.

  11. W H says:

    It’s interesting–the Goldwater campaign, in 1964, appears to have attempted to exploit this fear of government computerization.

    Check out this tv ad from 1964.

  12. Oh god yes!

  13. I know!

  14. Bob Munck says:

    Ah, the IBM System/360 mod 50. I spent many long summer nights with one of those. IBM now makes a microprocessor that is supposedly the equivalent of 10,000 football fields full of those machines. Imagine how fast it can screw up your tax return.

  15. heimaey says:

    She’s totally 35 and has grandkids.

  16. Naja pallida says:

    Luddites were crying about the computerization of the IRS in the early 1960s, but by about 1966 the result was some of the lowest rates of tax fraud the Service had ever seen – even though the system wasn’t in full use nation-wide until 1967. For a time, knowing that their tax returns were going to be scrutinized by computer discouraged fraudulent and duplicate filings. Things that often slipped through the cracks with human error, largely due to the sheer volume of data they had to sift through and correlate. ~70 million returns is a lot for any non-automated system. The amount of man hours needed to do full auditing dropped by around 30%. Not to mention, they cut the time it took for people to get their returns from about 8 weeks to 4. By the end of the 1960s, the system had essentially paid for itself with the additional revenues collected that they would have missed before, and by avoiding paying out fraudulent returns.

  17. Silver_Witch says:

    She is probably only in her 40’s..imagine…that is how my Grandmother looked in her 40’s. AND she is wearing pearls to work!!! How cute.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    Queen Elizabeth moonlighting?

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