United States Census - History

History

Censuses had been taken prior to the Constitution's ratification; in the early 17th century, a census was taken in Virginia, and people were counted in nearly all of the British colonies that became the United States.

Throughout the years, the country's needs and interests became more complex. This meant that statistics were needed to help people understand what was happening and have a basis for planning. The content of the decennial census changed accordingly. In 1810, the first inquiry on manufactures, quantity and value of products occurred; in 1840, inquiries on fisheries were added; and in 1850, the census included inquiries on social issues, such as taxation, churches, pauperism, and crime. The censuses also spread geographically, to new states and territories added to the Union, as well as to other areas under U.S. sovereignty or jurisdiction. There were so many more inquiries of all kinds in the census of 1880 that almost a full decade was needed to publish all the results. In response to this, the census was mechanized in 1890, with tabulating machines made by Herman Hollerith. This reduced the processing time to two and a half years.

For the first six censuses (1790–1840), enumerators recorded only the names of the heads of household and a general demographic accounting of the remaining members of the household. Beginning in 1850, all members of the household were named on the census. The first slave schedules were also completed in 1850, with the second (and last) in 1860. Censuses of the late 19th century also included agricultural and industrial schedules to gauge the productivity of the nation's economy. Mortality schedules (taken between 1850 and 1880) captured a snapshot of life spans and causes of death throughout the country.

The first nine censuses (1790–1870) were not managed by the Executive branch, but by the Judicial branch. The United States federal court districts assigned U.S. marshals, who hired assistant marshals to conduct the actual enumeration. The census enumerators were typically from the village or neighborhood and often knew the residents. Before enabling self-identification on the censuses, the US Census Bureau relied on local people to have some knowledge of residents. Racial classification was made by the census enumerator in these decades not by the individual.

Num Year Date Taken Population Notes
1 1790 August 2, 1790 3,929,326
2 1800 August 4, 1800 5,308,483
3 1810 August 6, 1810 7,239,881
4 1820 August 7, 1820 9,638,453
5 1830 June 1, 1830 12,866,020
6 1840 June 1, 1840 17,069,453 The census estimated the population of the United States at 17,100,000. The results were tabulated by 28 clerks in the Bureau of the Census.
7 1850 June 1, 1850 23,191,876 The 1850 census was a landmark year in American census-taking. It was the first year in which the census bureau attempted to record every member of every household, including women, children and slaves. Accordingly, the first slave schedules were produced in 1850. Prior to 1850, census records had only recorded the name of the head of the household and tabulated the other household members within given age groups.
8 1860 June 1, 1860 31,443,321 The results were tabulated by 184 clerks in the Bureau of the Census.
This was the first census where the American Indians officially were counted, but only those who had 'renounced tribal rules'. The figure for the nation was 40,000.
9 1870 June 1, 1870 39,818,449
10 1880 June 1, 1880 50,189,209 This was the first census that permitted women to be enumerators.
11 1890 June 2, 1890
62,947,714 Because it was believed that the frontier region of the United States no longer existed, the tracking of westward migration was not tabulated in the 1890 census. This trend prompted Frederick Jackson Turner to develop his milestone Frontier Thesis.

The 1890 census was the first to be compiled on a tabulating machine, developed by Herman Hollerith. The introduction of this technology reduced the time taken to tabulate the census from seven years for the 1880 census to two and a half years for the 1890 census. The total population of 62,622,250 was announced after only six weeks of processing. The public reaction to this tabulation was disbelief, as it was widely believed that the "right answer" was at least 75,000,000.
This census is also notable for the fact it is one of only three for which the original data is no longer available. Almost all the population schedules were destroyed following a fire in 1921.

12 1900 June 1, 1900 76,212,168
13 1910 April 15, 1910 92,228,496
14 1920 January 5, 1920 106,021,537 This was the first census that recorded a population exceeding 100 million.
15 1930 April 1, 1930
122,775,046
16 1940 April 1, 1940 132,164,569 This is the most recent Census where individuals' data has now been released to the public (by the 72-year rule).
17 1950 April 1, 1950 150,697,361 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2022.
18 1960 April 1, 1960 179,323,175 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2032.
19 1970 April 1, 1970 203,302,031 This was the first census that recorded a population exceeding 200 million. Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2042.
20 1980 April 1, 1980 226,545,805 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2052.
21 1990 April 1, 1990 248,709,873 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2062.
22 2000 April 1, 2000 281,421,906 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2072.
23 2010 April 1, 2010 308,745,538 For the first time since 1940, the 2010 Census is a short-form-only census, as the decennial long form has been replaced by the American Community Survey.
This was the first census that recorded a population exceeding 300 million. Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2082.

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