Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building
Opening in 1935, The Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building is a historic building located in named after former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare William Joseph Cohen. Known previously as the Social Security Administration Building, the Wilbur J. Cohen Building was built as part of an effort to help house emerging branches of the United States federal government. The building still hosts a number of occupants and the most noteworthy currently being Voice of America, an international broadcasting station. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July 2007.
A view of the Wilbur J. Cohen Building's front facade.
Backstory and Context
Wilbur J. Cohen was born on June 10, 1913 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and would be a very notable name in government. He became Under Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare working under Ivan A. Nestingen. Cohen would then move up to the actual position during the Johnson Administration in 1968. He served in that position until the next year. Cohen was one of the notable figures in the creation of the American welfare state. He was also involved in the creation of the New Deal and Great Society programs and policies used by other administrations. Cohen died in South Korea in 1987.
In August of 1935, acting as a part of the continuing expansion of the United States federal government, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act and activated the Social Security Board. The newly-formed board needed housing of its own, but it was not until 1938 that Congress approved the use of funds to construct a proper headquarters for the new group. Land was appropriated for the construction of the building and the process of demolition along with construction started the following year in 1939. Construction on the building finished rather swiftly and the new building was opened in 1940. However, with World War II well underway, it was decided that the National Defense Commission and the War Department would be the first tenants of the Social Security Building. The Social Security Board itself never occupied the building, however, as after World War II had ended, the Federal Security Agency took up residence in the building.
In the following decades, the Social Security Building changed it’s main tenants numerous times beginning in 1953 when the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare became the new primary resident of the building. Shortly after this, Voice of America also took up residence in the Social Security Building in 1954 and has remained as a major tenant of the building since then. The Social Security Building retained its name through the years up until 1988, when it was renamed in honor of the Social Security Board’s founding employee, Wilbur J. Cohen. On July 6th, 2007, the Wilbur J. Cohen Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building,” GSA. Accessed July 26th 2021. https://www.gsa.gov/real-estate/gsa-properties/visiting-public-buildings/wilbur-j-cohen-federal-building
“Social Security Administration (Wilbur J. Cohen Building),” DC Historic Sites. Accessed July 26th 2021. https://historicsites.dcpreservation.org/items/show/119