Column: Answering the Townsend question, plus Cedric’s challenge

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2001

Last August while I was on duty in the Tribune booth at the Freeborn County Fair, a reader asked me to find more information about a once famous American named Townsend.

Friday, December 14, 2001

Last August while I was on duty in the Tribune booth at the Freeborn County Fair, a reader asked me to find more information about a once famous American named Townsend. Then, in October, after I gave a speech at a Sons of Norway meeting, another reader asked if an odd paragraph once created by Cedric Adams could be rerun in this column.

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Sometimes it takes time to line up the right information. Now, thanks to a recent article in the American Heritage magazine, here’s the answer to the Townsend question.

Francis E. Townsend is the man who can be given a lot of credit for the creation of the nation’s present Social Security system. He was born during 1867 in Illinois and grew up in Nebraska. Townsend worked at several jobs and graduated from a Nebraska medical school in 1903.

Dr. Townsend served with an Army medical unit during World War I. After the war a health problem resulted in a move from the Midwest to Long Beach , Calif.

By 1933, as a result of the Depression, Dr. Townsend lost his job with the Long Beach Health Office and several real estate ventures had failed. He, like millions of senior American citizens, was poor. It was at this point that the doctor wrote a letter to the editor of a California newspaper with his solution to what was then one of the nation’s major problems.

What became known as the Townsend Plan was very simple. The government would pay $200 a month to everyone over the age of 60. The only requirements were that the recipients would stop working, and the money would have to be spent within 30 days. His plan would be financed with a two percent federal tax on every transaction in the nation.

The result of Townsend’s letter in 1933 was a lot of publicity, the organization of 7,000 Townsend Clubs within a year or so, and a petition with 25,000,000 signatures demanding that the politicians in Washington, D.C., put the plan into operation. In addition, several California congressmen were elected because of their support of the Townsend Plan.

This movement resulted in two reactions from the politicians in Washington, D.C. The dedicated conservatives thought Townsend’s proposal was an utopian scheme and socialism or populism at its worst. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Dealers thought Townsend’s proposal had real merit, but needed some drastic changes. What evolved as a result of Congressional action was the Social Security Act which was signed by Roosevelt in 1935.

The American Heritage article said, &uot;With the passage of the Social Security Act, Dr. Townsend’s time in the spotlight ended, and his plan was soon forgotten. But because he lived to be 93, dying only in 1960, he lived plenty long enough to see the essence of his vision – measure of security for every American in old age – come true.&uot;

Right about here let’s make a switch to another subject – Cedric Adams (1902-1961). He was one of the best known newspaper columnists, radio newscasters (WCCO), and television program hosts in the Upper Midwest several decades ago.

On March 5, 1999, I wrote a column about Cedric and his life. As a part of this column I included an interesting paragraph submitted by Earl Christensen of Albert Lea. This challenging paragraph was written by Cedric for one of his columns in the Minneapolis Star many years ago.

Again, as requested by a Tribune reader, here’s that really odd paragraph:


How quickly can you find out what is so unusual about this paragraph? It looks so ordinary that you should think that nothing was wrong with it at all and, in fact, nothing is. But it is unusual. Why? If you study it and think about it you may find out, but I am not going to assist you in any way. You must do it without coaching. No doubt, if you work at it for long, it will dawn on you. Who knows? Go to work and try your skill. Par is about half an hour.

We’ll have the answer in the next column.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.