Looking Back April 15

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

It’s that time again. It’s time to file state and federal income tax returns. It’s time to make sure the federal, and in most cases, state governments have received all the money possible from your coffers so that theirs may be refilled.

Take a break and enjoy this look back at all things taxing.

• Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, imposed a tax on souls in 1718. Peter also taxed such things as beehives, horse collars, hats, boots, beards, basements and chimneys.

• In 1795, powdered wigs were all the rage in men’s fashion. Desperate for income to pay for military campaigns abroad, British prime minister William Pitt the Younger levied a tax on wig powder. Although the tax was short-lived due to the protests against it, it did ultimately have the effect of changing men’s fashions. By 1820 powdered wigs were out of style.

• Roman emperors Nero and Vespasian in the 1st century levied a tax upon urine. The tax was actually levied on the collection of urine by the toilet operators who sold it , at great profit, to tanners and cleaners who utilized the liquid’s high ammonia content.

• King William III of England imposed a window tax. Homes with less than ten windows were given a waiver.

• The first U.S. income tax was implemented to fund the cost of the Civil War. The Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S Constitution in 1913 made the collection of income taxes permanent.

• During World War I, the top tax rate was 77 percent and stayed that way until the late 1920s.

• In 1898, at the start of the Spanish-American War, the telephone was taxed as a luxury and continues to be taxed today.

• To encourage citizens to pay their federal income taxes, cartoon character Donald Duck visited Washington, D.C. and learned about taxes in the short film “The New Spirit.” The year was 1942.

• During the Civil War, the government placed taxes on all sorts of goods in an effort to raise needed revenue. Carriages, musical instruments, pool tables, yachts and gold watches were on the list. The tax on a gold watch was $1.50.

• From 1784 until 1811, the British were taxed on hats. Forging a hat tax stamp was punishable by death.

• While it is commonly known as the crack tax in Tennessee, it is a tax on all illegal drugs. Drug dealers (and prostitutes) are bound by law to pay taxes on their illegal activity and can go to the state revenue office to receive a tax stamp. As one can imagine, few do so.

• In Alabama, playing cards are taxed at 10 cents per deck.

• China has increased its cigarette sales tax by forcing citizens to buy the product. In 2009 it was reported that “local government officials in China have been ordered to smoke nearly a quarter of a million packs of cigarettes” as a push to stimulate the economy. Schools have also been issued quotas for teachers.

• It is estimated that the U.S Treasury lost $500,000 in federal taxes while Elvis Presley fulfilled his military stint.

• The Internal Revenue Service has five times as many employees as the FBI.

• The initial tax code for the United States had 170 pages. The 2012 tax code has 73,608 pages. With over seven million words, the code is roughly equal to nine Holy Bibles and nine copies of the Declaration of Independence...combined.

• About 17 percent of those filing a tax return are believed to have cheated, at least a little.

• The error rate for a paper return is 21 percent compared to half a percent for those filing electronically.

• The people that create the tax code, in fact all members of Congress, get free tax preparation services.

Reader poll

Fill in the blank: Within 30 days of —————, the Internal Revenue Service expects to resume assessing and collecting taxes.

  • a) Christmas %
  • b) a nuclear attack %
  • c) the declaration of war %
  • d) a natural disaster %

0 total votes.

Yes, they did!

• In a novel promotion, a gas station owner gave his customers free beer in lieu of trading stamps. Proving that sometimes beer and gasoline do mix, the Tax Court allowed the write-off as a business expense.

• In an effort to get more tips, a stripper with the stage name “Chesty Love” decided to get breast implants to make her a size 56FF. A female Tax Court judge allowed Chesty to write off the cost of her operation, equating her new assets to a stage prop.

• A pro bodybuilder used body oil to make his muscles glisten in the lights during his competitions. The Tax Court ruled that he could deduct the cost of the oil as a business expense.

• Bermuda is more than just a scenic place to visit: It’s a great place to schedule a tax write-off. Business conventions held in Bermuda are deductible without having to show that there was a special reason for the meeting to be held there.

• A couple who owned a junkyard was allowed to write off the cost of cat food they set out to attract wild cats. The feral felines did more than just eat; they also took care of snakes and rats on the property, making the place safer for customers. When the case reached the Tax Court, IRS lawyers conceded that the cost was deductible.

• A parent was allowed to deduct the expenses for clarinet lessons because she claimed playing the instrument corrected her child’s overbite.


“I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money.” - Arthur Godfrey

“The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” - Mark Twain

“ A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.” - G. Gordon Liddy

“It’s a good thing we do not get as much government as we pay for.” - Will Rogers

“ We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself by the handle.” - Winston Churchill