Fred Happel’s Contribution

SocialSecurityCard1935.jpgFranklin D. Roosevelt, who spent a little bit of time in Albany himself, signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. Social Security Cards were first issued in November, 1936.

They may not look like much, but think of it: someone had to design the Social Security Card.

That someone was Fred Happel. Fred lived in Albany.

According to the Social Security Administration, Fred Happel was commissioned to submit three designs, for which he was paid $60. (That’d be about $1000 today, so not too shoddy. Plus also, there was still that pesky Great Depression going on.) Happel is also credited with designing the Flying Tigers logo used by General Chennault’s forces during World War II (though which version of the logo he designed is way less than clear).

So how did an Albanian come to design one of the iconic documents of the modern state? Fred Happel was a partner in Empire Engraving Company, 39-41 Columbia Street, Albany. This building, which now houses the Albany Center Gallery, was also home to Weed, Parsons & Co., a hugely important publishing house of the 19th century. Whether there was a connection between the companies or they just shared a building, I don’t know. It appears that the company had a number of important contracts; for example, they created the plates for the United States Liberty Loan Campaign. So they had that going on.

In 1900, Fred was listed as an artist working at 82 State St., and boarding at 138 Clinton St. He was the son of a German furrier, born around 1878. In 1905, at the age of 27, he was living with his parents on Benjamin Street, and listed as an engraver. Interestingly, and ironically, I don’t find him listed in the Social Security Master Death Index.

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