Vintage photos of people rushing to get their taxes in on time that prove procrastination is timeless

Bill Wallace/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesLast-minute taxpayers in 1944. Some things never change.
  • Tax Day this year is Monday, April 15, 2019. It’s the deadline to file your tax return.
  • Americans have been procrastinating filing their returns for over a century.
  • Vintage photos show crowds lining up on or right before Tax Day to fill out and mail their tax returns before the deadline.

Tax Day this year is April 15, 2019. According to the IRS,20-25% Americans wait until the last two weeks before the Tax Day deadline to prepare their tax returns.

Procrastination isn’t a recent phenomenon when it comes to filing tax returns. Since the early 1900s, people have been lining up in a last-minute rush to get their paperwork in on time.


Read more:
12 terrible things that could happen if you don’t do your taxes

Here are 15 vintage photos that show how timeless procrastination truly is.


The 16th Amendment to the US Constitution implementing a federal income tax was ratified in 1913.

Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty ImagesCrowds line up in a corridor to pay taxes at the County Treasurer’s office in Chicago, Illinois, in 1903.

Before 1913, Congress had temporarily collected income taxes to pay for the Civil War. A federal income tax was ruled unconstitutional in 1894 because the amounts weren’t administered according to the population of each state.

Congress originally chose March 1 as Tax Day in 1913. In 1918 they moved it to March 15.


The Internal Revenue Bureau’s 1917 ad campaign featured “Four Minute Men” reminding people to do their taxes on time, but people still waited until the day before to submit their paperwork.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesTardy taxpayers filing their income tax reports the day before they’re due in 1929.

The Bureau also became responsible for enforcing Prohibition in 1919. The Department of Justice took over in 1930.


The Individual Income Tax Act established standard deductions in 1944.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesCrowds form at the cashier’s window in the Internal Revenue Tax bureau in New York City in 1944, two days before the deadline.

Standard deductions, as opposed to itemized deductions, intend to simplify the filing process. The standard deduction is the share of your income that’s not taxed, so it can be used to lower the overall tax bill.

There are certain advantages to itemizing depending on one’s finances, but Business Insider previously reported that about 70% of Americans take the standard deduction.


Before photocopying and electric typewriters, everything had to be done by hand.

Bill Wallace/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesLast minute tax payers crowd the State Building in New York to avoid late penalties in 1944.

The IRS didn’t have photocopying until 1948 and didn’t get electric typewriters until 1949.


The filing deadline was pushed back one month to April 15 in 1954 to give people more time, but many still procrastinated.

Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty ImagesA woman fills out tax forms while eating a sandwich during a lunch hour rush in 1954.

The IRS established walk-in Tax Assistance Centres to help people file their taxes in the 1950s.


In the 1950s, most people submitted their tax returns through the US Postal Service.

Keystone/Getty ImagesPostal workers in Washington, DC, take drivers’ tax returns the night they’re due in 1955.

The returns had to be postmarked by April 15, so postal workers stood outside to accept people’s tax returns for delivery on the night of the deadline.


The last-minute mail rush continued into the 1960s.

Denver Post via Getty ImagesA postal worker at a Denver post office takes a driver’s tax returns in 1965.

The IRS also opened its first toll-free phone line in 1965.


Thousands still waited until the night of the deadline to file in the 1970s.

John G. White/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesPostal workers on the night of the tax deadline in 1971.

Postal workers stayed out until midnight collecting forms.


Some latecomers even dropped off their paperwork via motorcycle.

Kenn Bisio/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesDelivering tax returns around midnight in 1978.

A motorcyclist in Denver, Colorado, delivered his tax returns to the post office clutched in his teeth in 1978.


The IRS also began expanding the accessibility of their resources in the 1970s.

Joe Dennehy/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesTaxpayers wait for help at the State Office Building tax department in Boston two days before Tax Day in 1973.

They began to provide tax information in Spanish in 1972 and a teletypewriter service for people who are deaf or hard of hearing in 1976.


The influx of returns on the last day of the deadline inundated IRS workers.

Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesAn overwhelmed IRS worker hours before the deadline in 1982.

An IRS employee told The Boston Globe in 1982 that the flood of last-minute flood of returns “gets worse every year.”


As midnight approached, post offices collected piles and piles of forms.

Yvonne Hemsey/Getty ImagesStacks of income tax returns in 1985 at the Brookhaven IRS Center in Holtsville, New York.

Electronic filing started to become available when President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act in 1986.


In 1996, Great American Back Rub offered free massages outside of post offices in New York City to help relieve some of the stress of tax season.

James Leynse/Corbis via Getty ImagesTax season was stressful in the ’90s.

Filing taxes did get a little bit easier in the ’90s with the launch of The Digital Daily, now known as IRS.gov, in 1996.


Even in the new internet age, postal workers continued stationing themselves outside post offices on Tax Day to collect forms and keep traffic moving in the 1990s.

Joyce Naltchayan/AFP/Getty ImagesPostal workers collect tax returns in 1996 in Merrifield, Virginia.

Rain or shine, postal workers stood outside until midnight collecting returns.


Lines of cars on Tax Day stretched through to the new millennium in 2001.

Erik S. Lesser/Newsmakers/Getty ImagesA USPS employee Creginald Sanders collects tax returns from last minute filers in 2001at the exit ramp to the main post office in Atlanta, Georgia.

An estimated 24 million Americans filed their tax returns on the final day in 2001, according to Newsmakers. It goes to show that no matter how advanced technology gets or how many new resources the IRS provides, taxpayers’ strong procrastination habits aren’t going anywhere.

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