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March 19, 2006
April 15: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Tax Day
Joseph J. Thorndike

Full Text Published by Tax AnalystsTM

Were tax returns always due on April 15?

No. Until 1955, returns were due on March15. From 1913 to 1918, they were due even earlier, with taxpayers scrambling to meet a March 1 deadline.

In 1954, Congress changed the date to give IRS employees a break. Most returns were filed near the deadline, swamping agency employees. Lawmakers hoped a later deadline would encourage taxpayers to file earlier. Human nature being what it is, returns continued to flood the agency just before the new deadline. In recent years, about 20 percent of returns have been filed in the last week of the filing season.

For millions of Americans, April 15 is a day of dread, replete with a last-minute dash to the post office. But until 1955, the day of reckoning fell a month earlier. Indeed, Julius Caesar wasn't the only one warned about the ides of March; during World War II, the Treasury Department vigorously reminded Americans that they too had better watch the calendar (see poster reproduction below).

Nonetheless, for almost a half century, April 15 has been a touchstone of middle-class existence. As we once again approach the annual deadline, it's worth remembering that the day is not all about taxes.

    1452 Leonardo da Vinci born

    1684 Russian Empress Catherine I born

    1741 Painter Charles Wilson Peale born

    1755 Famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson publishes his Dictionary of the English Language

    1843 Author Henry James born

    1850 City and County of San Francisco incorporated

    1858 French sociologist Emile Durkheim born

    1861 Abraham Lincoln mobilizes the Union army

    1865 Abraham Lincoln assassinated

    1871 "Wild" Bill Hickok named marshal of Abilene, Kansas

    1889 Painter Thomas Hart Benton born

    1889 Labor and civil rights leader Asa Phillip Randolph born

    1892 General Electric incorporated

    1894 Blues singer Bessie Smith born

    1902 Former-North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung born

    1912 Titanic sinks

    1919 British troops kill 400 Indians in Amritsar, India

    1933 "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery born

    1933 Country singer Roy Clark born

    1942 North Korean leader Kim Jong Il born

    1945 Franklin Roosevelt buried at Hyde Park, N.Y.

    1948 Arab forces defeated by Israelis

    1952 Harry Truman signs the official peace treaty with Japan

    1955 Ray Kroc serves his first hamburgers at the fledgling McDonald's fast food chain

    1959 Fidel Castro begins a goodwill tour through the United States

    1960 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizes

    1974 Patty Hearst robs a bank

    1980 Deep thinker Jean-Paul Sartre dies

    1983 Tokyo Disneyland opens

    1986 United States bombs Libya

    1990 Actress Greta Garbo dies

    1992 Billionaire hotel magnate Leona Helmsley sent to jail for tax evasion

    1998 Cambodian despot Pol Pot dies