Census Historical Highlights

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Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution specifies that the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives is to be distributed proportionally among the states on the basis of the census to be conducted every 10 years.

1790 (Click here for more information)

  • Census Day was Aug. 2 (the first Monday of the month).

  • Six questions were asked, including name of "head of family," number of free white males by age (16 and up and under 16), and number of free white females.

  • The census was conducted in the 13 original states as well as the districts of Maine, Vermont, Kentucky and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee).

  • 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.

1900 (Click here 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 bodies.

  • 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.


2010 (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.

More information on the 2010 Census can be found at <http://2010.census.gov/2010census/> with more details on census history available at <http://www.census.gov/history/> or in Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000 <http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/pol02-ma.pdf>.

Posted by

Sui Zhang