OMAHA, Neb. — As a television producer, I’ve learned to expect surprises on field shoots. Last week, billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett arrived early for his PBS NewsHour interview with Judy Woodruff. As he was getting his face powdered and his hair combed, he pulled out some papers.
He’d brought along a copy of his very first tax return from 1944. Back then, young Warren Buffett was a recently transplanted 14-year-old living in Washington, DC. His family had moved to the nation’s capitol from Nebraska after his father, Howard Buffett, was elected to Congress in 1942. Howard Buffett went on to serve four non-consecutive terms in office, representing the district that included Omaha. And during that time, Warren Buffett earned money on a paper route in his Northwest Washington, D.C. neighborhood.
You might wonder why a 14-year-old would have to file a federal income tax return. Well, Buffett made more than $500, and IRS rules at the time required that a return must be filed by every citizen of the United States, including a minor, who had earned a gross income of $500 or more. Buffett’s income in 1944 was $592.50 and he paid a $7 tax. Translated to 2017 figures, using an inflation calculator, that’s $8,221.18 in income and $97.13 owed in taxes.
Buffett told us that along his route were six senators and one Supreme Court justice. He delivered the Washington Post and the now defunct Washington Times-Herald, both morning and afternoon editions. All of this was meticulously noted in an addendum attached to his 1944 tax return. He also noted two expenses; watch repair at a cost of $10 and miscellaneous bicycle costs adding up to $35.