Monday, May 17, 2021

Tax Forms Through History (#TaxForms)

Individuals' federal income taxes are due today. If you got yours in before the traditional April 15 deadline, good for you! If you're still not on top of it, an extension can give you till Oct. 15. 

Nearly everyone has filed a tax form, but how much have you thought about the forms? 

"For most taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service forms are the only connection the have with the tax laws enacted by the Congress."

Rep. J.J. Pickle, introducing Development of Federal Tax Forms by the Internal Revenue Service: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Oversight of the Committee on Ways and Means, 101st Cong. 5 (1989) [HeinOnline]

Tax forms can't just slapped together!

fans of typographic design should pause to appreciate just how difficult this project must be, which makes the result all the more impressive. These forms necessarily represent a collaboration between IRS lawyers (who have to make sure the forms are accurate relative to the ever-changing thicket of tax law), graphic designers (who have to create visual hierarchy & order while preserving an economical density of information), a warehouse of fact-checkers and proofreaders who have to make sure the forms are flawless before they head to the printer (can you imagine the costs of getting a form wrong?), and some chain of command that has approval over all of it.

Matthew Butterick, the best typography in the US federal government (May 13, 2021). (Haven't heard of Matthew Butterick? Don't miss out on his Typography for Lawyers (2d ed. 2015) [catalog record] [website].)

The IRS has posted an impressive collection of forms and publications. Sort by date to travel through history. For example, here are snippets for the tax years 1863 and 1918.

tax form 1863 


tax form 1918


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