This Is What the First 1040 Tax Forms Looked Like

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Nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes, but that wasn't always the case. (Well, the death part was, obviously.) The United States didn't impose a personal income tax until 1861 in an effort to help fund the Civil War. It was a flat tax of 3% on anyone making over $800 annually. This was repealed and replaced a year later with a scaled tax of 3% on incomes between $600 and $10,000, and 5% on all incomes higher than $10,000. It also had a built-in termination date: 1866.

In 1864, you would fill out a 1040 form just like today, but it looked a little different:

While this wartime effort eventually went away, taxes temporarily came back in the form of the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act in 1894. However, an enforced, annual income tax wasn't instituted until 1913 with the passing of the 16th Amendment. Americans were subject to a normal tax of 1%, and the 1040 forms they filed looked like this:

Good to know: Items lost in shipwrecks were deductible, but slaughtered animals were not.

If you're trying to waste some time before filing your actual, current-day taxes, see if you can calculate what you would've owed in 1864 or 1913. Just don't send those in today—we refuse to be responsible for your audit.

All forms are from the IRS archive.

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April 15, 2014 - 6:00am
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