My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

The historical impact of technology on the 2010 Census

As the 2010 Census approaches, more and more questions are pouring in about the history of the decennial census –spanning  from the 1790 Census to the present. From the Census Bureau’s self-recorded history, we’d like to give a hat tip to for highlighting the following points about the progression of  technology and the census:

  • 1890 is the first year that census workers were given detailed maps to help complete their tasks, and it’s also the same year that an electric tabulating system was utilized for the count
  • 1950 was the first time a computer was used to tabulate results, and it was also the first computer designed for civilian use
  • 1960 was the first time that census results were digitally recorded (on magnetic tape)
  • 1970 was the first time that census data products were made available digitally on magnetic tape.
  • 1980 saw the creation of the State Data Center Program for easier access to digital data on computer tapes
  • 1990 was the year that the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER), computer-based maps, was introduced. It also was the first year that data was released on CD-ROM
  • 2000 was when the Internet became the primary means of distributing Census data
  • 2010 won’t include the “long form” because this more detailed collection has been converted to the ongoing American Community Survey
  • Additionally, the Census Bureau sent out a media advisory today with historical Census Bureau information. Enjoy it here:

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was Aug. 2 (the first Monday of the month).
    — Six questions were asked.
    — The census was conducted in the 13 original states as well as the
    districts of Maine, Vermont, Kentucky and the Southwest Territory
    — U.S. marshals, who conducted the census, submitted their results to
    Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, nominal director of the census.
    — President George Washington delivered the first “State of the Union”
    address on Jan. 8, 1790.
    — Rhode Island entered the Union as the 13th state, May 29, 1790.
    — U.S. population: 3.9 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was Aug. 4.
    — Secretary of State John Marshall, future chief justice of the United
    States, reported the 1800 Census results to President John Adams.
    — Five most populous cities: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston
    and Charleston, S.C.
    — U.S. population: 5.3 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was Aug. 6.
    — Assistant marshals were required to actually visit each household to
    complete the count, rather than relying on hearsay.
    — Marshals, in addition to collecting demographic data, were required
    to collect data on manufacturing establishments and the types of
    goods they produced.
    — Estimated number of enumerators passed the 1,000 mark.
    — U.S. population: 7.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was Aug. 7.
    — Secretary of State John Q. Adams delivered census results to
    President James Monroe.
    — First census to inquire if respondents were engaged in agriculture,
    commerce or manufacturing.
    — Respondents were asked to identify the number of “foreigners not
    naturalized” in the household.
    — Maine entered the Union as 23rd state, March 15, 1820.
    — U.S. population: 9.6 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — At the recommendation of President John Q. Adams in 1828, Census Day
    was moved to June 1.
    — For the first time, enumerators used uniform printed schedules, as
    opposed to whatever paper was available. This made for more efficient
    tabulations of census results.
    — For the first time, respondents were asked whether they were blind,
    or “deaf and dumb.”
    — The census counted the population only. The previous two censuses had
    made unsuccessful attempts to collect additional data on
    manufacturing and industry.
    — Secretary of State Martin Van Buren delivered the census results to
    President Andrew Jackson.
    — U.S. population: 12.9 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was June 1.
    — New population inquiries included questions about school attendance,
    literacy and vocation.
    — The Census Act of 1840 authorized establishing a temporary,
    centralized census office during each enumeration.
    — New Orleans was the nation’s third largest city.
    — U.S. population: 17.1 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was June 1.
    — For the first time, information collected on whether respondents
    could read or write, as well as on the place of birth of the
    — Number of population inquiries grew. Every person’s name was to be
    listed, not just the head of household. The marshals collected
    additional “social statistics,” including information on taxes,
    schools, crime, wages, value of the estate and mortality.
    — Census board established and authorized to collect information on
    mines, agriculture, commerce, manufactures and education.
    — California entered the Union as 31st state, Sept. 5, 1850.
    — Millard Fillmore was sworn into office as the 13th president,
    following Zachary Taylor’s death.
    — U.S. population: 23.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was June 1.
    — American Indians living under state and territorial laws as citizens
    were enumerated.
    — Final census with slave schedules.
    — Abraham Lincoln elected president, prompting South Carolina to leave
    the Union on Dec. 20, 1860.
    — Number of enumerators: 4,417.
    — Brooklyn, N.Y., was nation’s third largest city (behind New York and
    — U.S. population: 31.4 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was June 1.
    — After the Civil War, questionnaires were reordered and redesigned to
    account for the end of the “slave questionnaire.”
    — Information collected on whether a person’s parents were
    — Gen. Francis Walker, superintendent of the census, introduced
    examinations to test the qualifications of those applying for
    positions within the Census Office.
    — A rudimentary tallying machine — the Seaton Device — was used to
    tabulate census data. The machine was invented by Chief Clerk of the
    Census Charles Seaton.
    — U.S. population: 38.6 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was June 1.
    — Professional enumerators replaced U.S. marshals as census takers.
    — When no one was available at a family’s usual residence, the
    enumerator was directed by law to obtain the required information
    from a family or person living nearby.
    — The act authorizing this census provided for the collection of
    detailed data on the condition and operation of railroad
    corporations, incorporated express companies and telegraph companies,
    and of life, fire and marine insurance companies.
    — The Superintendent of Census was required to collect and publish
    statistics on Alaska’s population, industries and resources.
    — All untaxed Indians were enumerated.
    — Number of enumerators: 31,382.
    — U.S. population: 50.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Because June 1 was a Sunday, Census Day was June 2.
    — For the first time, questions included how many living children
    mothers had, year of immigration to the U.S., citizenship status and
    ability to speak English.
    — Included a greater number of subjects than any previous census and
    more than would be included in those immediately following. New
    subjects included ownership and indebtedness of farms and homes; the
    names, as well as units served in, length of service and residences
    of surviving Union soldiers and sailors.
    — First time “Japanese” was used as a category in the race question.
    — Enumerators were given detailed maps to follow for the first time.
    — First census to use the Hollerith machine, an electric tabulating
    system that utilized encoded punch cards. This innovation
    substantially sped up tabulation of census results. The machine was
    invented by Herman Hollerith, a former census employee widely
    regarded as the father of modern automatic computation.
    — Idaho and Wyoming admitted to Union as 43rd and 44th states on July 3
    and July 10, 1890, respectively.
    — U.S. population: 63 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day was June 1.
    — Census content limited to questions dealing with population,
    mortality, agriculture and manufacturing.
    — Following the completion of the regular census, special census agents
    authorized to collect statistics relating to incidents of deafness,
    blindness, insanity and juvenile delinquency, as well as religious
    — Hawaii included in the census for the first time.
    — In 1902, the formerly temporary Census Office was made a permanent
    organization within the Department of the Interior. In 1903, it
    became the Census Bureau and was transferred to the Department of
    Commerce and Labor.
    — Number of enumerators: 52,871.
    — U.S. population: 76.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day changed to April 15, as the Census Bureau director felt
    many urban dwellers may be away from home on summer vacation in June.
    — For the first time, Puerto Rico was included in the decennial census.
    Its population was 1,118,012.
    — At the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907,
    enumerators were hired through the civil service system.
    — For the first time, respondents asked about their mother tongue and
    whether they were a Union or Confederate veteran.
    — Vital statistics queries on questionnaire abolished.
    — For the first time, enumerators in large cities distributed
    questionnaires in advance — a day or two prior to Census Day — so
    people could become familiar with the questions and have time to
    prepare their answers.
    — U.S. population: 92.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day moved to Jan. 2, at the behest of the Agriculture
    Department, which felt that in January, harvests would be completed
    and information about them would still be fresh in farmers’ minds.
    Additionally, it was thought that more people would be home in
    January than in April.
    — This was the first census in which the majority of the population
    lived in urban areas.
    — For the first time, Guam and American Samoa were included in the
    decennial census.
    — “Usual place of abode” became the basis for enumeration, rather than
    where people worked or might be visiting. People with no regular
    residence were enumerated where they were when count was taken.
    — Four new questions were added: one asking about the year of
    naturalization and three about the mother tongue.
    — Questions deleted included unemployment on Census Day, service in the
    Union or Confederate army or navy, number of children born and how
    long a couple had been married.
    — For the first time, Los Angeles was among the nation’s 10 most
    populous cities.
    — KDKA in Pittsburgh became the first radio station to offer regular
    — U.S. population: 106 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Census Day moved to April 1, where it remains today.
    — For the first time, the U.S. Virgin Islands were included in the
    decennial census.
    — First time respondents were asked about whether their home has a
    — With the nation descending into the Great Depression, Census Bureau
    rushed out unemployment information collected in the census. When the
    numbers it reported were attacked as being too low, Congress required
    a special unemployment census for January 1931.
    — Number of enumerators: 87,756.
    — U.S. population: 123.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — First census to use advanced sampling techniques, including
    probability sampling. The questions asked of only a sample of the
    population were part of the first “long form.”
    — First census of housing, with numerous questions asked about the
    characteristics of the housing structure.
    — Questions on employment, unemployment, internal migration and income
    — President Franklin Roosevelt elected to third term as World War II
    rages in Europe.
    — Number of enumerators: 123,069.
    — U.S. population: 132.2 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — First time Americans abroad were enumerated, including members of the
    armed forces and U.S. government employees living in foreign
    — A new survey on residential financing conducted as part of the
    — For the first time, a computer (UNIVAC I) was used to tabulate census
    results. It was the first computer designed for civilian use.
    — Several procedures were instituted to improve the accuracy and
    completeness of the census, including setting a specific night to
    conduct a special enumeration of hotels and places frequented by
    — The United Nations entered the Korean War.
    — U.S. population: 151.3 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — First mail-out decennial census; most households were asked to
    complete the questionnaire and hold it until an enumerator came to
    pick it up.
    — Census conducted in two stages: first, a quick collection of a few
    data items for every person; second, collection of more detailed
    economic and social information from a sample of households.
    — Questions added on place of work and means of transportation to work.
    — Computers processed nearly all data; for the first time, the Census
    Bureau used the film optical sensing device for input to computers
    — For the first time, census results were recorded on magnetic tape.
    The tapes were not produced, however, until long after the data
    became available in print.
    — John F. Kennedy elected president.
    — Houston appeared on the list of the 10 most populous cities for the
    first time.
    — U.S. population: 179.3 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands first included in
    the decennial census.
    — Number of questions on long-form questionnaire reduced from 66 to 23.
    — For the first time, a separate question on Hispanic origin was asked
    of a 5 percent sample of the population.
    — Only five questions were asked of all individuals. Other questions
    were asked of a 15 percent sample and still others of a five percent
    — First census to make available all data products on magnetic tape.
    Additionally, several Public Use Microdata Sample files were
    — U.S. military involvement in Vietnam ended on April 30, 1975.
    — Dallas among the nation’s 10 most populous cities.
    — Number of enumerators: 166,406.
    — U.S. population: 203.3 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Mail-out/mail-back program expanded, with about 95 percent of the
    population enumerated in this manner.
    — Short form contained seven population and 11 housing questions; the
    long form contained an additional 26 population and 10 housing
    — Question on Hispanic origin asked of everyone for the first time.
    — Two small surveys included in the census: Components of Inventory
    Change Survey and Residential Finance Survey.
    — An extensive public service advertising campaign was directed by the
    Census Publicity Office, which was established in 1978. The Census
    Bureau secured the free services of the Ad Council.
    — “M-Night” (for mission) and “T-Night” (for transient) held to
    enumerate historically hard-to-count individuals.
    — First use of the newly developed State Data Center Program to
    simplify public access to data available on computer tapes.
    — Ronald Reagan elected president.
    — Phoenix and San Diego now among the nation’s 10 most populous cities.
    — Number of enumerators: 458,523.
    — U.S. population: 226.5 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Short form asked 13 questions and long form 45 questions.
    — Question on congregate housing added, question on disability revised,
    and questions on presence of air conditioning, the number of
    bathrooms, and type of heating equipment dropped.
    — Promotion activities included complete count committees and Census in
    Schools program.
    — “S-Night,” a one-night sweep of homeless shelters and other areas
    where the homeless were known to congregate, was conducted.
    — First time Census Bureau defined census tracts and census blocks for
    the entire nation.
    — TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing),
    a computerized representation of various map features, introduced.
    — Tabulations released on CD-ROM for first time.
    — San Antonio among the 10 most populous cities.
    — Number of enumerators: 510,200.
    — U.S. population: 248.7 million.

    (See <>
    for more information)
    — Short form asked seven questions; the long form asked 52 questions.
    — For the first time, respondents could check as many boxes as
    necessary to identify their race.
    — Question on grandparents as caregivers added, while questions on
    children ever born, source of water, sewage disposal and condo status
    were dropped. Questions on disability expanded.
    — Census Bureau embarks on aggressive paid advertising campaign with
    Young and Rubicam. This campaign contributed to the rise in the
    mail-back rate to 67 percent.
    — Additional option for answering the census: telephone questionnaire
    assistance centers taking responses to the short form over the phone
    in six languages. This was the first census in which such centers
    — Internet became the principal dissemination medium for Census 2000
    — Optical character scanners used to process returned questionnaires.
    — U.S. population: 281.4 million.

    (See 2010 Census by the Numbers Facts for Features for more information)
    — Census form is one of the shortest in history: just 10 questions that
    only take about 10 minutes to answer.
    — Integrated communications campaign with DraftFCB and many
    subcontractors to boost public awareness and participation through
    paid advertising, a Road Tour, Census in Schools, partnership, social
    media, a NASCAR race car and an interactive 2010 Census Web site. Ads
    in 28 languages (in contrast to 17 languages in 2000) to reach all
    segments of the population.
    — The “long form” no longer exists, having been converted to an ongoing
    survey throughout the decade (American Community Survey).
    — Questions very basic: asking about topics such as name, age, race,
    Hispanic origin and homeownership.
    — Households in areas with high concentrations of Spanish-speaking
    residents receive a bilingual (English/Spanish) form.
    — Expected U.S. population: around 309 million.

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