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U.S. Census Bureau History: Public Broadcasting

PBS Logo
On October 5, the Public Broadcasting Service celebrates 45 years of
deliverying quality programming like Masterpiece Theater, NOVA, and
Downton Abbey to its viewers in approximately 94 percent of households
in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Link to a non-federal Web site—an American nonprofit broadcaster and television program distributor—celebrates its 45th birthday on October 5. Founded in 1970 by Hartford N. Gunn, and headquartered in Arlington, VA, PBS has more than 350 member television stations in each of the 50 states, District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Funded by viewers and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Link to a non-federal Web site, PBS fulfills its mission to "educate, inform, and inspire" through its slate of quality children's, documentary, and arts programming, noncommercial news, as well as comedy and drama offerings that would otherwise be unavailable to U.S. audiences. In the 45 years since its founding, 94 percent of U.S. households have access to a PBS television station. Today, more than 100 million households view PBS television programming each month—including 77 percent of all children aged 2 to 8—making it the nation's fourth most-watched television network.

Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and other statistical agencies can help you learn more about PBS and television-related industries in the United States. For example:

  • The National Educational Television (NET) network, founded by the Ford Foundation in 1952, preceded PBS. NET's operations began in Ann Arbor, MI, and between May 16, 1954, and October 4, 1970, the network distributed programming produced by local television stations (including NET Playhouse, Washington Week in Review, and Sesame Street) to affiliated stations.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 into law on November 7, 1967. The law established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)—a nonprofit corporation funded by the federal government to promote public broadcasting. The CPB distributes money to approximately 1,400 locally-owned and -operated public radio and television stations. In fiscal year 2014, the CPB distributed nearly $396.5 million to support public radio and television stations and their programming.
  • In 2010, 98 percent of American homes owned at least one television set and more than 60.9 million received cable television service.
  • Famous singers, actors, and entertainers have appeared in PBS programming including: Walter Cronkite, who hosted Great Performances; Julia Child of the The French Chef ; Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood; Shari Lewis from Lamb Chop ; Jan and Stan Berenstain's Berenstain Bears; Arthur Fiedler of the Evening at the Pops; and Louis Rukeyser, host of Wall Street Week.
  • The 2012 Economic Census collected data from 2,078 television broadcasting stations, 772 cable and subscription programming establishments, and 462 television manufacturing establishments in the United States.
  • In addition to PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting also established National Public Radio (NPR) on February 26, 1970. In that year, 99 percent of American households owned a radio. Today, NPR consists of 925 public radio stations with more than 34 million listeners.
  • Internet availability is changing the way households access media. The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey collected data on Internet use for the first time in 1997, finding only 18 percent of households connected. In 2013, the American Community Survey found that 78.1 percent of individuals reported living in a home with a high-speed Internet subscription. Web-connected households downloaded more than 77 million podcasts from NPR each month and viewed 4.5 billion videos across all of PBS's digital platforms in 2014.

Census Bureau director Robert Groves with Sesame Street Characters

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves launched the 2010 Census in Schools program with the assistance of
Sesame Street's Count von Count and Rosita in Wilmington, DE, on January 15, 2010. Sesame Street premiered on
National Educational Television in 1969 and PBS in 1970. In 2015, cable television's HBO announced it would premier
new episodes of the children's program before they aired on PBS.

Historic census records from 1790 to 1940 are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the U.S. Census Bureau.

Visit the National Archives Web site to access 1940 Census records—

Decennial census records are confidential for 72 years to protect respondents' privacy.

Records from the 1950 to 2010 Censuses can only be obtained by the person named in the record or their heir after submitting form BC-600 or BC-600sp (Spanish).

Online subscription services are available to access the 1790–1940 census records. Many public libraries provide access to these services free of charge to their patrons.

Contact your local library to inquire if it has subscribed to one of these services.

This Month in Census History

On October 17, 2006, U.S. Census Bureau director Charles L. Kincannon held a press conference as the agency's population clock showed the U.S. population reaching 300 million.

Population Clock

The nation reached the 200 million milestone in 1967, 100 million in 1915, and 50 million in 1880. As of October 1, 2015, the U.S. population was approximately 321,865,000.

Did You Know?

When the Ford Foundation Link to a non-federal Web site established National Education Television in 1954, 65 percent of American households owned a television. In 1970, 95 percent of households had a television on which they could watch the first PBS broadcasts.

Since 1978, 98 percent of households own at least one television. Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation shows that along with televisions, most households also own a refrigerator (99.2 percent), gas or electric stove (98.6 percent), and microwave oven (96.8 percent).

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: October 01, 2015