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Paying a Poll Tax in Phoenix, Arizona in 1891

I've paid a lot of taxes in my day - sales taxes, income taxes, gasoline taxes, but I'd never even heard of a Poll Tax until I saw this receipt for one from 1891.

The person who paid this tax was Christian Hanny, who lived in Phoenix, and he paid it to the County of Maricopa, Territory of Arizona. It cost him two dollars and fifty cents, which doesn't sound like much nowadays, but you have to consider that he could have gotten a shave and a haircut for two bits (25 cents), so it wasn't just pocket change back then.

There haven't been Poll Taxes for a long time, and as near as I can figure, it was just a tax for just being there. As if the government just said, "Hey you, give us some money!" It wasn't tied to income or outgo or anything, it was just a chunk of change that you had to hand over.

By the way, if the name Hanny sounds familiar, yes, it's the same name that you see on the restaurant in downtown Phoenix on 1st Street and Adams. Hanny's used to be a menswear store, going all of the way back in Phoenix to 1912, run by Christian's son Vic. Of course the restaurant has nothing to do with the store, or the family, they just kept the name on the building because it looks great. And there are still plenty of descendants of Christian Hanny living in Arizona. I borrowed this receipt from one of Christian Hanny's descendants to scan it in, and in spite of the fact that it's just a tax receipt, I get a big kick out of touching a piece of Phoenix history like this.

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I'm still researching the names on this receipt and the only one I'm absolutely sure of is the Treasurer, R.L. Rosser. He's on the Maricopa County Treasurers webpage. The other names, H.G. Orme, and J.R. Lane (I think) I'm still working on. When I find out for sure, I'll come back to this post and update it. By the way, using the two initials like that was very common for men in the 1890s . You know, like H.G. Wells, and J.P. Morgan. And as far as I know, they greeted each other with those initials, as in "Hello, H.G.!" "Good morning J.P., how's business?"

I also find it fascinating that much of this official document in written in pencil. Yes, I'm looking at the original document right now, and that's pencil. This may have been because the collector went door to door, and it would have been very inconvenient to use a pen (they didn't have ballpoint pens in those days!). The number of the receipt, and the two signatures in the lower left are in ink, so that part of this was obviously done at a desk. If the collector was indeed walking around Phoenix, at least it was in December so it's wasn't terribly hot. Phoenix was only fourteen blocks wide back then, so he could have covered everyone living within the city limits fairly easily. For people on farms and ranches, I'd imagine that some type of hoofed transportation was used.

This Poll Tax was duly paid to the County of Maricopa. Hopefully it was put to good use!

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