Throughout history there have been many strange, unusual, and weird taxes. Many of them were implemented to raise additional revenue, while the purpose of others was to promote social change. Here are some of the strangest ones:
In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.
~ Benjamin Franklin
- In Ancient Egypt, cooking oil was taxed, and on top of that, people had to buy their taxed cooking oil from the Pharaoh’s monopoly, and were prohibited from reusing previously purchased oil.
- During the 1st century AD, Roman emperor Vaspasian placed a tax on urine. At the time, urine was collected and used as a source of ammonia in such tasks as tanning hides and laundering garments. Therefore, those who obtained valuable urine from collectors were charged a tax.
- In Ancient Rome, it was not uncommon for slave owners to free their slaves after a certain number of years of work, and/or the payment of a certain fee. Slaves could pay that fee because many of them had the opportunity to work in several places, and thus could earn the money used to obtain their freedom. The Roman government required the newly freed slave to pay a tax on his or her freedom.
- During the Middle Ages, European governments placed a tax on soap. It remained in effect for a very long time. Great Britain didn’t repeal its soap tax until 1835.
- King Henry I allowed knights to opt out of their duties fight in wars by paying a tax called “scutage”. At first the tax wasn’t high, but then King John came to power and raised it to a rate of 300%. Some claim that the excessive tax rate was one of the things that contributed to the creation of the Magna Carta, which limited the king’s power.
- Oliver Cromwell placed a tax on Royalists, who were his political opponents, taking one tenth of their property. He then used that money to fund his activities that were aimed against the Royalists.
- Playing cards were taxed as early as the 16th century, but in 1710, the English government dramatically raised taxes on playing cards and dice. This led to widespread forgeries of playing cards to avoid paying taxes. The tax was not removed until 1960.
- In 1660, England placed a tax on fireplaces. The tax led to people covering their fireplaces with bricks to conceal them and avoid paying the tax. It was repealed in 1689.
- In 1696, England implemented a window tax, taxing houses based on the number of windows they had. That led to many houses having very few windows in order to avoid paying the tax. Eventually this became a health problem and ultimately led to the tax’s repeal in 1851.
- In the 1700’s, England placed a tax on bricks. Builders soon realized that they could use bigger bricks (and thus fewer bricks) to pay less tax. Soon after, the government caught on and placed a larger tax on bigger bricks. Brick taxes were finally repealed in 1850.
- In 1705, Russian Emperor Peter the Great placed a tax on beards, hoping to force men to adopt the clean-shaven look that was common in Western Europe.
- The French had a salt tax called the gabelle, which angered many and was one of the contributing factors to the French Revolution.
- In 1712, England imposed a tax on printed wallpaper. Builders avoided the tax by hanging plain wallpaper and then painting patterns on the walls.
- England introduced a tax on hats in 1784. To avoid the tax, hat-makers stopped calling their creations "hats", leading to a tax on any headgear by 1804. The tax was repealed in 1811.
- In 1789, England introduced a tax on candles. People were forbidden from making their own candles unless they obtained a license and then paid taxes on the candles they produced. The tax was repealed in 1831, leading to a more widespread popularity of candles.
- In 1795, England put a tax on the aromatic powders that men and women put on their wigs. This led to a dramatic decline in the popularity of wigs.
- In 1885 Canada created the Chinese Head Tax, which taxed the entry of Chinese immigrants into Canada. The tax lasted until 1923 when a law was passed banning Chinese people from entering Canada altogether with a few exceptions.
- Johnstown, Pennsylvania was devastated by a flood that killed nearly 2,000 people in the late 19th century, and in 1936 another flood damaged the town. That led to the state of Pennsylvania passing a tax on alcohol, the proceeds of which would be used to rebuild the city. By 1942, enough money was raised to rebuild Johnstown, yet the tax exists to this day, and brings in around $200 million a year for Pennsylvania.
- Salt was a very popular thing to tax because consuming it is necessary to humans. The British placed a tax on salt, and the salt tax gained worldwide attention when Ghandi staged nonviolent protests against it.
- England has a tax on televisions. If you own a television in your home, you must pay an annual fee, formally called a television license, for each television you own. Color televisions are taxed at a higher rate than black and white televisions. Interestngly enough, if a person is blind an owns a TV in his or her home, he or she still has to pay the tax, but only half of it.
- New York City places a special tax on prepared foods, so sliced bagels are taxed once as food and again as prepared food, thus creating a sliced bagel tax.
This post is written by Sarah Coulsey. She is a Wife, and Mother of two boys living in New England. This post may contain affiliate links.