Woman taking the U.S. census, circa 1909-1932
The United States census counts the nation’s population and gathers information on certain characteristics (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) of people residing in the country. It takes place every 10 years, in years ending in zero. Since 1930, Census Day has been April 1st.
A national census is mandated by Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution to allocate seats in the House of Representatives and calculate direct taxes. The first national census took place in 1790 with six questions, but the type and number of questions asked on subsequent censuses have varied. The process of gathering responses for the census–and for analyzing the data–has also changed over time. Before 1970, census takers went door-to-door to collect information on the population; but after 1970, responses were collected primarily by mail.
Although the census aims to gather accurate data about people living in the United States, there are concerns about the underreporting and undercounting of some communities, such as minorities. The 2020 census is the 24th national census.
Timeline of Key Dates in U.S. Census History:
1789: U.S. Constitution goes into effect, requiring a national census within 3 years
1790: First U.S. census begins
1840: Census Act of 1840 establishes a temporary Census Office during each census period
1850: All members of a household are named on the census for the first time; the first “slave schedules” are included
1870: Native Americans are officially counted in a census for the first time
1880: Specially trained enumerators begin gathering census data; women are first allowed to work as census takers
1890: The first electric tabulating machines are used to help compile census data, making the process much faster
1902: The Census Office becomes a permanent government agency called the U.S. Census Bureau
1921: A sizable portion of the 1890 census’s population schedules are lost in a fire at the Commerce Building; most of the rest are destroyed in the 1930s
1970: Census information is primarily gathered via mailed forms for the first time
2020: Census responses can be submitted online for the first time
Learn more about the U.S. Census through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the U.S. Census
Some residents of Philadelphia suspect 1790 census enumeration was not accurate Fri, Nov 19, 1790 – 3 · Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comPopulation numbers gathered in the 1790 census are published in a newspaper the following year Wed, Sep 7, 1791 – 4 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comNewspaper publishes act of Congress authorizing the 1800 census, including info to be gathered Thu, Apr 17, 1800 – 4 · Kentucky Gazette (Lexington, Kentucky) · Newspapers.comText of the oath taken by marshals and other census workers for 1800 census Mon, Apr 21, 1800 – 2 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comHouse of Representatives discusses possible additions and changes to the 1820 census Sat, Jan 15, 1820 – Page 2 · Newbern Sentinel (New Bern, North Carolina) · Newspapers.comNewspaper editorial about the 1820 census and a list of the questions on it Sat, Aug 5, 1820 – 2 · Lancaster Intelligencer (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comLetter to Editor claims many homes missed in 1830 census in Philadelphia Fri, Aug 20, 1830 – 2 · The National Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comNewspaper article announces that the census questions have been expanded for 1840 Fri, Mar 6, 1840 – 4 · The Vermont Mercury (Rutland, Vermont) · Newspapers.comNewspaper discusses the 6 schedules included on the 1850 census, including the "slave schedule" Wed, Jun 5, 1850 – 2 · The Lancaster Examiner (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comNewspaper asks readers to be ready for the 1870 census & provides overview of the questions Sat, Jun 18, 1870 – 2 · The Ogden Junction (Ogden, Utah) · Newspapers.comDescription of challenges with the Civil War veterans schedules on the 1890 census Sun, Jul 27, 1890 – 7 · The Indianapolis Journal (Indianapolis, Indiana) · Newspapers.comFamily bibles prove important for recording family data for 1900 census Thu, Jun 7, 1900 – Page 8 · The Ottawa Herald (Ottawa, Kansas) · Newspapers.comSummary of U.S. Census history, written in 1910 Sun, Jan 16, 1910 – 19 · The Fresno Morning Republican (Fresno, California) · Newspapers.com"Some Plain Census Facts" about the 1910 census; Meant to reassure readers about taking the census Mon, Mar 21, 1910 – Page 33 · Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, New Jersey) · Newspapers.com"New improvements" devised for 1920 census, including participation of women and African Americans Sun, Jan 4, 1920 – 7 · The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) · Newspapers.com1890 census damaged & destroyed by 1921 fire at the Commerce Building Tue, Jan 11, 1921 – 10 · Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1930 census will record birthplace of individuals and their parents to gather immigration info Tue, Mar 25, 1930 – Page 2 · Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1930 census tracks unemployment during the Great Depression Sun, Mar 30, 1930 – Page 12 · The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana) · Newspapers.comInfographic about questions 1940 census will ask about housing Mon, Apr 1, 1940 – Page 25 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.comArticle explains how the new process will work for mailed 1970 census forms Wed, Mar 25, 1970 – 5 · The Journal Times (Racine, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.comCommunity leaders accuse Census Bureau of undercounting minorities Wed, May 20, 1987 – 8 · The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) · Newspapers.com2020 census will include option to respond online, or by mail or phone Fri, Jan 3, 2020 – L7 · The Herald-News (Passaic, New Jersey) · Newspapers.com