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Monthly Features

Radio Ownership During the Great Depression

Father and daughter listening to the radio

The 1930 Census was the first to collect data on radio ownership, finding that approximately 12 million [PDF 59KB] households (40 percent of the U.S. population) owned a radio.

Radio ownership more than doubled as news and entertainment programs, including FDR's fireside chats, became increasingly popular during the 1930s. By the 1940 Census, 28 million [PDF 192KB] households (82.8 percent of the U.S. population) reported radio ownership. At 96.2 percent, Massachusetts led the nation for the number of households owning a radio.

Data from the the American Community Survey found that 83.8 percent [PDF 1.73 MB] of households owned a computer in 2013. This compares to the national average of households owning a radio in 1940, and a television in 1958.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Roosevelt's Fireside Chats

Roosevelt delivering a speech by radio

March 12 marks the anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 fireside chat—On the Banking Crisis—the first of 30 chats Link to a non-federal Web site he hosted on topics that included banking, the dust bowl, economic conditions, and World War II. The speech was broadcast by radio as the nation's banking system teetered on the brink of collapse and nervous Americans looked to their new president for a solution.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Dust Bowl

Dust Storm in Stratford, TX

The 1930s dust bowl contributed to the nation's economic woes as farmers were helpless to prevent the topsoil from their drought-stricken farms from blowing away during wind storms like this one in Stratford, TX, on April 18, 1935.

Between 1930 and 1940, the hard hit states of Oklahoma and Kansas saw their populations decrease from 2,396,00 to 2,336,000 and 1,881,000 to 1,801,000 [PDF 871KB] respectively. In contrast, California's population surged from 5,677,000 to 6,907,000 as impoverished farm families sought new lives and jobs in the state.

John Steinbeck's book The Grapes of Wrath chronicles the migration of farm families from their wind-swept farms to California in search of better lives.

Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Charles W. Seaton

Charles W. Seaton On March 12, 1885, Charles W. Seaton died at his home in Vermont. Seaton served as chief clerk during the 1870 Census and superintendent of the census from 1881 to 1885.

In 1872, Seaton invented a machine that sped data tabulation by isolating and organizing lines on tally sheets. The Census Office purchased the "Seaton Device" to help tabulate 1870 Census data.

Even with the device, clerks were overwhelmed by the volume of data collected by the 1880 Census. Motivated by the clerks' struggles, Herman Hollerith developed electronic tabulating technology for the 1890 Census. Variations of this technology would be used until it was replaced by computers in the 1950s.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 05, 2014