Think Your Taxes Are Bad? History Says You Have It Easy!

They used to charge for pee!

On April 15, at 11:50pm, as you scramble to complete your tax forms, take a moment to reflect on how, once upon a time, taxes used to be way crazier. Here's a short list that'll make what you owe Uncle Sam seem a bit more reasonable. Just a bit.

Beard Tax

Hairless faces were all the rage in Europe in 1705. Wanting to make his country more "fashionable," Peter I of Russia decided to tax the beard. The fee for being follicular could be as much as 100 rubles for nobility, but as little as one kopek for the "lesser classes." The law was later changed to tax only beards with two or more week's growth. And you thought you were stuck in a hairy tax situation!

Wallpaper Tax

From 1712 to 1836, Britain had a tax on all painted, printed, and patterned wallpaper. The fee could be as much as one shilling per square yard of wallpaper. Adjusted for inflation and converted to real money, that's about $4.24 in today's currency. Per square yard. We're guessing that a lot of people at that moment realized that bare walls didn't look that bad, all things considered.

Soap Tax

England (yes, again!) started taxing soap in 1711. By the time the tax was repealed in 1853, it was raking in the equivalent of $125 million a year in today's money. People were already interested in getting clean, but the tax repeal made soap even more popular. Though if it would mean an end to the inane Axe Body Wash ads, we might sign a petition for this tax's reinstatement.

Tea Tax

In 1773, the British East India Company found themselves in possession of a huge surplus of tea, and saw Colonial America as a great way to unload it all. The Tea Act was going to ensure that colonials bought the tea and submitted to England's taxation rules in one fell swoop — two birds with one Earl Grey, if you would. Of course, young Americans balked at this, dressed up, and then threw some of that tea into the Boston Harbor. And because of that, we now have a Starbucks on every corner. Thanks, early colonists!

Hats Off To Taxes!

Cementing its position as The Original Home of Weird TaxesTM, here's another one from England. In 1571, the government wanted to stimulate wool sales so, via an Act of Parliament, it was mandated that on Sundays and holidays, all men over the age of six had to wear a woolen cap or pay a fine of three farthings every day their head went uncovered. The nobility, the learned, and upper-crusty types were exempt, of course. They could continue wearing crowns, mortar boards, and hats made of money, we guess?

The Sign Said "Fine For Dancing," So We Did

In 1944 the U.S. was fighting the Nazis and decided to deploy dancing to put an end to Hitler's war machine. Indirectly. See, to raise war-fighting funds, the government instituted a 30% tax on nightclubs, called the Cabaret Tax. Patrons now faced paying 30% more for door fees, food, and drinks at their local dance hall, but many still continued to kick up their feet, because they felt it was their duty to support the boys overseas. Originally intended as a short-term help-the-war-effort, the measure wound up getting an extension in 1947 and that's when people decided they didn't need to swing that much. Outside of a brief late-90's Cherry Poppin' Daddies-fueled resurgence, that was pretty much all she wrote for the popularity of swing dancing.

You're A-Peein' Tax

In ancient Rome (c. 69-79), urine was a necessity in both tanneries (where they made leather with it) and in laundries (yes, where they cleaned your clothes with it). Before you imagine legions of Roman citizens hopping up and down on one leg, we should point out that the government only taxed those who bought the urine, not those who *ahem* produced it.

OK, you may now resume hastily filling out those 1040EZ forms. Just remember, no matter how much you claim to love it, the government will never agree that your car is a dependent. And if you need some actually useful information about Tax Day, set up an email alert for tax software deals.

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Jeff Somogyi
Contributing Writer

Jeff Somogyi is constantly trying to come up with ways to surprise and delight audiences the world over. He takes humor seriously ... too seriously. (Honestly, we've never seen him laugh ... it's kinda creepy.)
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1 comment
I've got some other funny taxes I liked to see disappear. I'd like to start with the mandatory Obamacare tax.