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How America has changed since the first census in 1790

  • 1890: Census goes electric

    - U.S. resident population: 62,979,766
    - Number of official states: 42
    - Median age of population: 22.9
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 455,302
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 1,515,301), Chicago, IL (1,099,850), Philadelphia, PA (1,046,964)

    The 1890 census was the very first in which electronic tabulation was used. As the prior census took nearly a decade to tabulate, census officials were craving a more efficient way to aggregate the necessary data with few mistakes, unlike the work-intensive and frequently error-laden hand-counting process. A former census employee, Herman Hollerith, invented an electric machine that revolutionized the census and sold them under the newly formed Tabulating Machine Company. Eventually, the company went from Tabulating Machines to International Business Machines and became IBM.

  • 1900: New York City expands and Hawaii is added to census

    - U.S. resident population: 76,212,168
    - Number of official states: 45
    - Median age of population: 24.1
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 448,572
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 3,437,202), Chicago, IL (1,698,575), Philadelphia, PA (1,293,697)

    The 1900 census was the first year that New York City included all five of its present boroughs, after the existing City of New York consolidated with the Bronx, Brooklyn, parts of Queens, and Staten Island in 1898 in order to contend with Chicago, which was growing in size, business, and technology. 1898 was also the year that the United States annexed Hawaii during the Spanish-American war, and the territory's residents were included in the overall population count.

  • 1910: Summer vacations inspire move of Census Day date

    - U.S. resident population: 92,228,496
    - Number of official states: 46
    - Median age of population: 25.3
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,041,570
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 4,766,883), Chicago, IL (2,185,283), Philadelphia, PA (1,549,008)

    Arguing that city dwellers would be off to their vacation homes on June 1, which had been Census Day since 1830, Census Day was moved in 1910 to April 15. When the U.S. entered World War I seven years later, data from the 1910 census proved vital in reporting on populations of draft-age men and the potential industrial output of each state.

  • 1920: New York State surpasses 10 million residents

    - U.S. resident population: 106,021,537
    - Number of official states: 48
    - Median age of population: 26.5
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 430,001
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 5,620,048), Chicago, IL (2,701,705), Philadelphia, PA (1,823,779)

    The date for the 1920 census was switched to January thanks to the Department of Agriculture; officials hoped that information about their most recent harvests would be more fresh in farmers' minds in winter, leading to more accurate data. In this census, four new questions were added specifically to collect information on America's immigrants: one question asked about year of naturalization and three asked about mother tongue. New York was the most populous state this year at 10,385,227 people, with more than half of those people living in New York City.

  • 1930: The census and the Great Depression

    - U.S. resident population: 123,202,624
    - Number of official states: 48
    - Median age of population: 29
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 241,700
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 6,930,446), Chicago, IL (3,376,438), Philadelphia, PA (1,950,961)

    The 1930 census reflected growing American consumerism: it was the first to ask a question about a consumer item, through inquiring whether respondents owned a “radio set.” But this census also reflected concerns about economic turmoil, coinciding with the beginning of the Great Depression, through more detailed questions about respondents' employment or lack thereof. In fact, academics and statisticians were so intent on analyzing nationwide unemployment data, they pressured the Census Bureau into conducting a special unemployment census in January 1931.

  • 1940: First use of probability sampling

    - U.S. resident population: 132,164,569
    - Number of official states: 48
    - Median age of population: 30.2
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 70,756
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 7,454,995), Chicago, IL (3,396,808), Philadelphia, PA (1,931,334)

    The 1940 Census was the first national census to utilize probability sampling, a statistical technique in which subjects are randomly selected in order to ensure that a small sample accurately reflects an entire population. This technique allowed the number of questions asked by the Census Bureau to be raised without putting a huge strain on the respondents or on the analysts who would process the data and allowed census results to be released much earlier. New questions this year discussed employment, unemployment, internal migration, and income.

  • 1950: Census pulls in Americans abroad and computers at home

    - U.S. resident population: 151,325,798
    - Number of official states: 48
    - Median age of population: 29.6
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 249,187
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 7,891,957), Chicago, IL (3,620,962), Philadelphia, PA (2,071,605)

    In 1950, the Census Bureau expanded its questioning to include members of the armed forces and government employees living abroad; some civilians living abroad were also included (reported by their families or neighbors back at home), but this data was not of sufficient quality to be included in published statistics. Later that decade, the Census Bureau became the first non-military agency in America to use a computer: UNIVAC I, used to tabulate statistics for the 1954 economic census, weighed 16,000 pounds.

  • 1960: Tracking increased urbanization

    - U.S. resident population: 179,323,175
    - Number of official states: 50
    - Median age of population: 29.5
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 265,398
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 7,781,984), Chicago, IL (3,550,404), Los Angeles, CA (2,479,015)

    For the first time, all 50 states in 1960 had a population of more than 200,000, with about 80% of the nation's population living in urban areas. Census enumerators working in urban areas practiced random sampling by questioning every fourth housing unit. Meanwhile, in areas of lower population density, a mail-out census was used for the first time. This year's census included new questions on place of work and means of transportation to work.

  • 1970: California is the most populous state

    - U.S. resident population: 203,302,031
    - Number of official states: 50
    - Median age of population: 28.1
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 373,326
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 7,894,862), Chicago, IL (3,366,957), Los Angeles, CA (2,816,061)

    Thirteen questions were asked of all households that adhered to that year's housing theme. Questions included inquiries about where there was a phone in the household, whether there was a flush toilet, and costs of utilities. The population U.S. population rose by 13.4% between 1960 and 1970, bringing numbers up to 203.4 million, and marked the first census year since 1800 that New York was not the most populous state in the U.S. (California came in first)

  • 1980: Advertising campaign seeks more robust response rates

    - U.S. resident population: 226,542,199
    - Number of official states: 50
    - Median age of population: 30
    - Immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 524,295
    - Biggest cities: New York, NY (Population: 7,071,639), Chicago, IL (3,005,072), Los Angeles, CA (2,966,850)

    A campaign in 1978 sought to increase public awareness and ensure more people filled out and returned their questionnaires. California became the first state to have a population of 20 million (that number today exceeds 39.5 million).

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