U.S. Department of Commerce
Link to Census 2000 Gateway 100 Years Ago the U.S. Census Reflected Simpler Times

In 1900, William McKinley was president, fewer than 10,000 registered automobiles poked along the 125,000 miles of "surfaced" roads at top speeds of 20-30 mph and Census Day came on June 1-- after planting and before harvesting when the 40 percent of the population who lived on farms returned from the fields.

About 53,000 census-takers went door-to-door for up to eight weeks to count an average of 1,400 residents each. Each census-taker carried an 80-page book of instructions and a "general schedule" of 22 questions. These included name, age, sex, race, relationship to the "head of household," literacy (11 percent of the population 10 years old and over could not read or write -- today the question is not asked), whether the person spoke English and where they were born (nearly 14 percent of the 76 million population in 1900 were foreign-born; in 1997, an estimated 9.7 percent of a population that had grown to 268 million were born outside the United States). The answers were filled in sequentially by the census-taker.

One hundred years later, about 860,000 census-takers will conduct the 22nd national census in what will be the largest peacetime mobilization in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Census Bureau projects the nation's population on April 1, 2000, will be about 274 million people.

One of the questions asked in 1900 of women who at any time had been married was the number of children they had given birth to. The "crude" birth rate was 32.3 births per 1,000 population in 1900, compared with 14.6 births per 1,000 population in 1997. In 1900, less than 5 percent of the population 25 years old and older had graduated from high school; in contrast, 82 percent of the population 25 and over had graduated from high school or gone on to higher education in 1997.

In 1900, the enumerators worked for the then-temporary Census Office, a part of the Interior Department. There was no address list, no mailout-mailback of questionnaires and relatively few reliable maps. The devices that came closest to high technology were electric card sorters and tabulators, primitive forerunners of the sophisticated data capture and optical imaging equipment that will be used in 2000.

Delivery of the questionnaires in 2000 will depend largely on the accuracy of the Census Bureau's address list (most of the population will receive a form that is mailed or hand-delivered to an address) and detailed census maps that show where the addresses are located. Five out of six housing units will receive a short form with just seven questions while a long form with 52 questions will go to the remainder.

In 1900, the census-taker might be invited to come in for a cup of tea and a chat; for 2000, the Census Bureau, aware of the accelerated pace of go-go lifestyles, stresses that the short form will take the average household about 10 minutes to fill out; the long form, about 38 minutes.

Subjects on the short form, announced about two years ago, include age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, household relationship and whether the residence is owned or rented. The long form also covers such subjects as ancestry, bedrooms in housing unit, citizenship, educational attainment, income, heating fuel, journey to work, kitchen facilities, language spoken at home, occupation, plumbing facilities and vehicles available.

All of the questions on the 2000 questionnaire are either "mandated" or "required" by federal law or imposed by court decisions requiring the use of census data.

The Census 2000 questionnaire includes just one new subject, concerning grandparents as primary care-givers for their grandchildren. This question was mandated by the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

In 1900, "color" or race options were: White, Black, Chinese, Japanese and Indian (American Indian). Changes from 1990 in the 2000 race and Hispanic-origin questions include:

The Census 2000 questionnaires, featuring larger type, pictorial representations illustrating the benefits of the census for individuals and their communities and instructions on the questionnaire, are easy to read and understand. Respondents may request questionnaires in five languages other than English -- Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Korean. Questionnaire guides will be printed in about 49 languages.

Respondents are asked to list the names of all the persons living in their household on April 1, 2000. The forms have room to report the full set of characteristics for six persons. In addition, the forms have space to report the names of up to six additional household members. The Census Bureau will contact those households that list seven or more persons.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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Created: December 8, 1999
Last Revised: June 14, 2010 at 01:38:53 PM