August 2, 1790: The first United States census is conducted. The newly formed country needed the information to apportion Congressional seats in the lower house and the electoral votes used in Presidential elections as well as a basis for funding of federal programs. The US Constitution mandates a census be conducted every ten years.
The population of the American colonies, just prior to their revolt against England, was about 2.5 million. The first census in 1790 showed that nearly 4 million people lived in the new country and approximately 400,000 of them were slaves. The most populous state at that time was Virginia. The city with the most people was Philadelphia. New York City was second, Boston was third, Charleston and Baltimore rounded out the top five. Vermont, Kentucky, and Maine – then territories – were included in the counts.
The original census asked just six questions. The name of head of household; number of persons living in said household; number of free while males over age sixteen; number of males under age sixteen; and the sexes and colors of the rest of the household. The males over sixteen question answered how many males were available for either warring or working. Today’s census comes in either the long or short form, both asking more than six questions. If the information is not returned in a timely manner, someone comes to the house to collect the data.
There is controversy today over including non-citizens in official counts. These counts are used for the elective process and citizens are not part of that process. However, they are also used for government funding and many non-citizens do require governmental subsidizing. The actual Census data is available to the public 72 years after each census is taken. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, which contains samples of both US and international census data, can be used by researchers seeking more current data.
“I just want to know how people with multiple personalities fill out their census papers.” – unknown
“’Tis pedantry to estimate nations by the census, or by square miles of land, or other than by their importance to the mind of the time.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The first census in 1790 asked just six questions: the name of the head of the household, the number of free white males older than 16, the number of free white males younger than 16, the number of free white females, the number of other free persons, and the number of slaves.” – Tom G. Palmer
A motto for the Census Bureau: “Count everyone, because everyone counts.” – Steve Clark
Also on this day, in 1835 Elisha Gray, not inventor of the telephone, is born.