On this day January 8, 1835
The United States national debt is zero for the only time under President Andrew Jackson but then quickly grew into the millions again.
The United States has had public debt since its inception. Debts incurred during the American Revolutionary War and under the Articles of Confederation led to the first yearly reported value of $75,463,476.52 on January 1, 1791.
The first dramatic growth spurt of the debt occurred because of the Civil War. The debt was just $65 million in 1860, but passed $1 billion in 1863 and had reached $2.7 billion following the war.
The debt slowly fluctuated for the rest of the century, finally growing steadily in the 1910s and early 1920s to roughly $22 billion as the country paid for involvement in World War I.
The buildup and involvement in World War II brought the debt up another order of magnitude from $51 billion in 1940 to $260 billion following the war. After this period, the debt’s growth closely matched the rate of inflation until the 1980s, when it again began to increase rapidly.
Between 1980 and 1990, the debt more than tripled. The public debt shrank after the end of the Cold War from FY 1998 until FY 2002 on a nominal dollar basis, although the total debt has not declined since FY 1969. By the end of 2005, the gross debt had reached $7.9 trillion, about 8.7 times its 1980 level.