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National Archives Opens 1930 Census Records to the Public

In 1930, when life expectancy in the United States was less than 60 years, compared to 77 now, census enumerators gathered information across America during the dawn of the Great Depression. Those time capsules of records, collected 72 years ago, will be released by the National Archives on April 1.

The 1930 census found just 5,165 people residing in a dusty, desert outpost called Las Vegas, Nev., where the railroad was the principal industry; and 48,118 in another desert town to the south called Phoenix, Ariz. Both Western cities today are among the fastest growing in the nation: Census 2000 tabbed Las Vegas' population at 478,434 and Phoenix at 1,321,045.

Other highlights from the 1930 census include:

  • It was the last census that asked U.S. residents if they could read or write. It also was the last census in which everyone was asked the same set of questions. In 1940, a scientifically selected sample of households received a "long form" with a set of questions in addition to those that were asked of all households.
  • In addition to the 1930 Census of Population, enumerators took the censuses of employment, agriculture, manufactures, mines and quarries and distribution (wholesale and retail trade).
  • Census Day was April 1, 1930, a change from the 1920 date (Jan. 1) because of weather-related difficulties encountered in data collection.
  • Five months after the 1929 stock market crash, California's population was 5,677,000. Its nation-leading population in 2000 was 33,871,648 — nearly six times as many residents.
  • According to the 1930 census, 12 million people had access to radios. A new question, "Does this household have a radio?," was designed to measure the extent of the nation's leap into new home-appliance technology.
  • In 1930, veterans could indicate service in World War I, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Boxer Rebellion and the Mexican Expedition.

In order to protect the confidentiality of individual census records, the Census Bureau and the National Archives withheld the release of these records to the public until 72 years after the census in which they were collected [92 Stat. 915, Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978]. The original 1930 documents were destroyed long ago, but not before their photographic images were transferred to rolls of microfilm in 1944 and 1945 and kept in locked vaults at the National Archives.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | | Last Revised: September 09, 2014