The Wisconsin Idea Goes to Washington Brown County

Connections in Brown County

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

Did you know that a Badger built Social Security?

Few men have helped to transform 20th-century American culture more than Arthur Altmeyer ’14, MA’20, PhD’31. In fact, the De Pere, Wisconsin, native’s ideas and work have provided a financial security and social stability that remain key features of American society.

Arthur Altmeyer ’14, MA’20, PhD’31Altmeyer studied at the University of Wisconsin under John Commons, an economics professor who was doing innovative work in the field of social insurance. The professor’s work in Wisconsin’s groundbreaking workmen’s compensation program caught the young Altmeyer’s interest, which grew into a fascination that shaped his entire career as an economist.

After completing his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics at the University of Wisconsin — while simultaneously working for the Wisconsin State Tax Commission and the Wisconsin Industrial Commission — Altmeyer went to Washington, DC, to work in the Department of Labor, serving as an adviser in the Civil Works Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

Altmeyer served on the committee under the direction of another Badger, Professor Edwin Witte of the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Economics.

In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt asked Altmeyer to help draft an executive order that eventually became the Social Security Act of 1935. (Altmeyer served on the committee under the direction of another Badger, Professor Edwin Witte of the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Economics.) Altmeyer later became chair of the Social Security Board, guiding the nascent program through its infancy and the subsequent broadening of its focus. In 1953, he left the Social Security Administration to serve as an adviser to the United Nations.

The transformative effect that Social Security has had on how Americans have lived since its inception cannot be understated — and this profound change finds much of its basis in the ideas and influence of one forward-thinking Badger.