Have you heard the old joke about the federal income tax? It goes: Line one: How much money did you make? Line 2: Send it in!
Joe Janes offers a quick chuckle, then gets to the business of exploring the 105-year history of IRS Form 1040 - the most infamous of tax forms - in a new installment of his popular podcast series, " Documents that Changed the World.”
Janes, an associate professor in the University of Washington Information School , has been producing installments of the occasional series since 2012. In the podcasts, he explores the origin and often evolving meaning of historical documents both famous and less known.
In this new podcast episode on what he calls "one of the American rites of spring,” Janes briefly reviews the history of American income taxation itself before turning to Form 1040, "the dullest and most mundane of documents... so deeply ingrained into the national psyche that the mere mention of its number evokes fear and dread.”
The first proposal for an income tax in America was made during the War of 1812, Janes writes, and the first successful implementation came during the Civil War. But Form 1040 didn’t debut until 1914, taking up all of page 3 of the New York Times with a full reproduction - complete with comma - as Form "1,040.”
Along the way, Janes briefly explores the history and meaning of what a "form” is, as well as why we use the terms "return” and "file” in our tax preparations.
Tax forms, Janes writes, "are not the stuff of myth or legend; no sagas or epic poems have been composed about tax gatherers.” Yet a casual observer might note that George Harrison of the Beatles came awfully close in a song about the "Taxman”: "My advice for those who die,” he called out: "Declare the pennies on your eyes!”
All of the Documents the Changes the World podcasts are available on the school’s website as well as on iTunes - where the series has attracted 460,000 downloads in all. In 2017, Janes turned the series into a book, called " Documents that Changed the Way We Live ,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.