The [Social Security] Board first considered a small card similar to a credit union or trade union card, but some objected that it was too flimsy. Alternatively, a ¾ x 2⅞ inch metal card was proposed by a manufacturer of such cards. It was estimated that it would have taken 250 tons of metal for initial registration. The arguments in favor of the metal card were its permanence, accuracy (records could be imprinted from the embossed token), and economy (because of the imprinting capability). Still, in early June 1936, the Board decided to use a small paper card (McKinley and Frase 1970, 327 and 329).
In October 1936, the Social Security Board selected a design submitted by Frederick E. Happel, an artist and photo engraver from Albany, NY, for the original Social Security card, for which Happel was paid $60. The Board placed an initial order for 26 million cards. In late 1937, a second version was adopted, and a version just for replacement cards was adopted in 1938 (SSA 1990, 1). Since 1976, the design of original and replacement Social Security cards has been the same. In all, over 50 designs have been used from 1936 to 2008. All versions remain valid since it would be cost-prohibitive to replace all cards previously issued.