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U.S. Census Bureau History: Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day candy and flowers from the U.S. State Department

In 2022, the National Retail Federation Link to a non-federal Web site estimated that Americans spent $23.9 billion on
Valentine's Day—more than was spent on Father's Day or Halloween.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.

Every February 14, spouses, couples, secret admirers, and even platonic friends celebrate Valentine's Day. Originating with the martyrdom of at least one Christian saint named Valentine, Europeans began associating the day with love and romance during the Middle Ages. Love-struck couples began exchanging Valentine's Day greetings in the 1700s, and the custom's popularity grew as the cost of postage and printed paper valentines decreased in the 1800s. Today, couples throughout the United States—and the world—observe Valentine's Day with the exchange of cards, candy, flowers, and other gifts. In 2022, the National Retail Federation reported that Americans spent $23.9 billion Link to a non-federal Web site on Valentine's Day, which exceeded total spending on Father's Day and Halloween!

One of the earliest observances of a holiday on February 14—a Christian feast day—originates with the martyrdom of Italian bishop St. Valentine of Terni. Roman emperor Claudius II executed Valentine for refusing to renounce his religion on February 14, 269 A.D. Details of the bishop's life are scarce. Much of the legend of St. Valentine and his association with love and romance arose in Europe centuries after his death. Early references to the celebration of the holiday in February include English poet Geoffrey Chaucer's 1382 Parliament of Fowls; the earliest surviving Valentine's Day greeting which was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415 during his 24-year imprisonment following the Battle of Agincourt; and 1602 William Shakespeare noted that the meeting of two single people on Valentine's Day would likely lead to marriage in his play The Tragedy of Hamlet.

By the late 1700s, British publishers were printing books of romantic verses for men to recite or transcribe in cards as they attempted to win a woman's affection. Printers soon incorporated these saccharine verses into small batches of expensive, hand-decorated Valentine's Day greeting cards. By 1840, the exchange of paper valentines among British lovers grew in popularity thanks to the introduction of mass-produced greeting cards and the "Penny Black" postage stamp. Great Britain printed more than 68 million of the inexpensive, self-adhesive postage stamps which allowed frugal English men and women to mail hundreds of thousands of valentines to their sweethearts. Inevitably, some of those valentines reached the United States. When Esther Howland received an ornate British valentine in 1847, she convinced her father to begin selling cards of her own design at his Worcester, MA, stationary and book store. Howland's New England Valentine Company and its competitors were soon producing millions of valentines annually. By the early 1900s, Worcester, MA, was known as the "Valentines Capital of the World" Link to a non-federal Web site as adults and children alike exchanged the inexpensive, mass-produced paper greetings with spouses, sweethearts, friends, and classmates. Giving ornately decorated, commercially printed valentines remain a popular tradition in the United States. In 2017, the economic census found that 102 Greeting card publishing firms (NAICS 511191) employed 13,678 people and had revenue of more than $3.7 billion.

Like colorful and ornate valentines, other popular Valentine's Day traditions migrated from Europe to the United States. Although gifts of flowers have celebrated special occasions for centuries, a number of books published in Europe during the 19th century popularized the symbolism, language, and culture of flowers and flower-giving. For example, red roses symbolized Valentine's Day love and romance, mistletoe represented the winter holidays, and bouquets of lilies and tulips were popular Spring and Easter gifts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1910, long-distance love got a helping hand from the establishment of Florists' Telegraph Delivery (FTD). Using FTD's network of participating florists, Americans could arrange same-day floral deliveries by telegraph to recipients throughout the United States. Today, the Valentine's holiday is the single busiest day on florists' calendars as Americans spend an estimated $2.3 billion Link to a non-federal Web site on roses, carnations, tulips, and arrangements of other colorful flowers.

The popularity of valentine candy and chocolate grew in the 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to industrial advances that made the processing of chocolates and sweets faster and cheaper. Stephen Whitman began producing boxed candies from his Philadelphia, PA, shop in 1854. Located near the city's busy port, Whitman's candies were popular gifts for sailors to give to wives and girlfriends. In 1868, British chocolatier Richard Cadbury introduced heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. The holiday packaging was a hit that was quickly duplicated by candymakers in the United States. In 1894, Milton Hershey introduced his famous milk chocolate bar after seeing the chocolate manufacturing process at the 1893 World's Fair. He followed the bar's introduction with his romantically-named chocolate "kisses" in 1907. In 1923, Russell and Clara Stover began selling boxed chocolates from their home. Renamed Russell Stover Candies in 1943, the company's chocolates have been popular holiday gifts for nearly a century. Together, these confectioners helped make boxed candies a staple of Valentine's Day gifting. By 2022, an estimated 56 percent Link to a non-federal Web site of Americans gave candy to their significant other, making it the most popular Valentine's Day gift ahead of both greeting cards and flowers.

When cards, candy, and flowers don't express a suitor's love, a gift of jewelry may put a sparkle in their loved one's eyes. In the 1920s and 1930s, department stores like Montgomery Ward and Woolworth began creating elaborate displays of inexpensive, mass-produced "costume" jewelry for Valentine's Day. After World War II, diamond industry marketing campaigns used print, radio, television, and movies to encourage couples to exchange long-lasting diamond jewelry. For example, Marilyn Monroe sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as adoring suitors lavished the actress with glittering gifts. Audrey Hepburn dazzled moviegoers with the jewels she wore in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. More recently, Cuban actress Ana de Armas—who portrayed Marilyn Monroe in a 2022 Hollywood movie—was named the global ambassador for the Natural Diamond Council and has been donning jaw-dropping diamond jewelry at special events around the world. Decades of diamond marketing have helped wholesale diamond sales to grow from $23 million to $2.1 billion Link to a non-federal Web site between 1939 and 1979. In 2021, rough diamond sales reached $4.9 billion Link to a non-federal Web site, benefiting the 19,875 jewelry stores (NAICS 448310) in the United States.

From cards to candy and flowers to jewelry, Valentine's Day has grown to become one of the most popular and economically important holidays in the United States and around the world. You can learn more about the history, business, and celebration of Valentine's Day using the records and data collected by the Census Bureau. For example:

  • Esther Howland was nicknamed the "Mother of the American Valentine" for helping popularize the exchange of ornately decorated paper Valentine's Day cards in the United States during the 19th century. Born in Worcester, MA, in 1828, Esther Howland became enamored with the colorful Valentine's Day cards popular in Great Britain after receiving one from her father's friend around 1847. She soon began producing her own valentines using a home-based assembly line that employed local girls and sold the cards at her father's book and stationary store. The New England Valentine Company she founded in 1870 made cards embellished with ribbon, silk, and lace; hand-painted flowers and cupids; romantic verses; and even special compartments to hold locks of hair or engagement rings. The business soon had sales exceeding $100,000 annually—more than $2.9 million in 2022 dollars. Howland retired in 1880–81 after selling her business to George C. Whitney—owner of the world's largest valentines manufacturer before World War II paper shortages forced its closure. Although Esther Howland built a fortune on the valentines exchanged by couples in love, she never married. She died at her brother's Quincy, MA, home in 1904. Today, her valentines are displayed alongside other works of art at museums like New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art Link to a non-federal Web site; the American Antiquarian Society Link to a non-federal Web site in her hometown of Worcester, MA; the Library of Congress; and the Smithsonian Institution.
  • It has been more than a century since British chocolatier Richard Cadbury began selling his heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and Milton Hershey introduced his popular chocolate "kisses" to Valentine's Day shoppers. These and other delicious confections have made the production of chocolate candies a profitable business. In 2017, Chocolate and chocolate confectionery manufacturers (NAICS 31135) in the United States had sales of nearly $16.7 billion. In 2020, the County Business Patterns series reported there were 1,243 Chocolate and chocolate confectionery manufacturing establishments in the United States. These establishments employed 44,456 people and had an annual payroll of nearly $2 billion during the pay period that included March 12, 2020.
  • "Be Mine," "Hug Me," "Sweetheart," "Kiss Me," and "Miss You" are popular messages on conversation heart candies exchanged on Valentine's Day. The New England Confectionery Company began producing the popular heart-shaped candies in 1902. Founded by brothers Oliver and Silas Chase in 1847, the candies were made possible when brother Daniel invented a press that could stamp words on the hearts using vegetable-based food coloring dyes. Although the company closed in 2018, candy hearts are still produced today by some of the nation's Nonchocolate confectionery manufacturers (NAICS 31134). According to the County Business Patterns series, there were 514 Nonchocolate confectionery manufacturing establishments in the United States in 2020. They employed 24,471 people and had an annual payroll of nearly $1.4 billion during the pay period that included March 12, 2020.
  • Looking for a unique place to spend the Valentine's Day holiday with your special someone? You might want to consider Valentine City, NE, home to 2,633; Valentine, TX, so named because it was founded on February 14, 1882; Love County, OK, named after American Indian judge and landowner Overton Love; the Census Designated Place of Darling, MS, boasting a population of 154; Dateland, AZ, famous for its date palms; or Rose City, MI, named for the Rose family that settled in the area.
  • Las Vegas, NV, is a popular Valentine's Day vacation destination, especially for couples getting engaged or married. Included among Clark County, NV's 187 Personal services sector (NAICS 812990) establishments identified by the County Business Patterns series in 2020 are Las Vegas' famous Hollywood-themed, traditional, and drive-thru wedding chapels. Weddings can even be officiated by an Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra impersonator! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these "artists and related workers" earned a median annual wage of $61,580 in 2021.
  • Many couples choose Valentine's Day to become engaged to be married. Suitors will often visit a jewelry store to shop for a special engagement ring before "popping the question" to their significant other. The County Business Patterns series found that there were 19,875 jewelry stores in the United States in 2020. Establishments in this sector are primarily engaged in retailing new jewelry (except costume jewelry); new sterling and plated silverware; and/or new watches and clocks. Also included are establishments retailing these new products in combination with lapidary work and/or repair services. The majority of these jewelery stores (10,948) employed fewer than five people during the pay period that included March 12, 2020. In 2017, the nation's jewelry stores reported sales, shipments and production of approximately $29.5 billion.
  • Interested in a diamond engagement or wedding ring that is even more unique than those sold at the nation's 19,875 jewelry stores? Consider a visit to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Pike County, AR. A farmer named John Wesley Huddleston discovered Arkansas' first diamonds in one of his fields near Thompson township in 1906. Today, the diamond field is one of the only places in the world where the public can search for real diamonds at their original volcanic source. In 1924, a park visitor unearthed the largest diamond ever found in the United States—the 40.23 carat rough weight (12.42 carat cut weight) "Uncle Sam" diamond. In 2021, 201,709 visitors with diamond-filled dreams visited the park and found 354 diamonds, eight of which had rough weights of more than 1 carat.
  • Did you know that while love-struck couples celebrated Valentine's Day in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was applying for a patent for his apparatus designed for "transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically . . . causing electrical undulations"? The U.S. Patent Office granted Bell's February 14, 1876 patent request (No. 174,465), the following month. In addition to inventing the telephone, U.S. Census Bureau Director William R. Merriam appointed Bell as an "Expert Special Agent of the Census Office" tasked with designing the 1900 Census supplemental questionnaire and preparing a report on the blind and deaf population. Bell poured much of his time and energy into overseeing the collection, tabulation, and publication of the data. Published in 1906, the special report, The Blind and the Deaf, was the most comprehensive in census history and included detailed statistics about individuals' levels of disability, cause, age at onset, school attendance, occupation, and methods of communication.
  • February 14 is notorious in Chicago, IL, for the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. At the height of Prohibition, the Irish "North Side Gang" led by George Moran and the Italian "Chicago Outfit" led by Alphonso Capone were locked in a bitter rivalry as both sides sought control of the region's illegal bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling businesses. On the morning of February 14, 1929, five North Siders and two associates were gunned down in a Chicago garage by four unidentified men suspected of being affiliated with Capone's crew. The victims included: Peter Gusenberg, Frank Gusenberg, Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Reinhardt Schwimmer, Albert Weinshank, and John May. Although there were a number of witnesses outside the garage, the assailants—including two men wearing police uniforms—were never found.
  • Interested in using census data and records to learn more about some of our nation's favorite holidays? Visit our webpages dedicated to Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Holidays, Mother's Day and Father's Day, and New Year's Day.

Valentine's Day Card from the Smithsonian Institution

Printed valentines grew increasingly popular in the United States during the 19th century. In 1847, Esther Howland—the "Mother of the American Valentine"— convinced her father to sell
Valentine's Day cards from his Worcester, MA, stationary and book store. In the decades that followed, The New England Valentine Company she incorporated in 1870 sold millions of ornate
valentines to smitten couples around the world.

Today, Good Housekeeping Link to a non-federal Web site estimates that Americans exchange a whopping 145 million Valentine's Day cards every February 14!

Photo courtesy of the Beatrice Litzinger Postcard Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History.

Citing Our Internet Information

Individual census records from 1790 to 1950 are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the U.S. Census Bureau.

Publications related to the census data collected from 1790 to 2020 are available at https://www.census.gov/library/publications.html.

Visit the National Archives Web site to access 1940 and 1950 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 1790–1950 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.

Did You Know?

Just Married sign on a car from the Department of Education

Marital status and marital history data help federal agencies understand marriage trends, forecast future needs of programs that have spousal benefits, and measure the effects of policies and programs that focus on the well-being of families, including tax policies and financial assistance programs.

The U.S. Census Bureau began asking questions about marriage during the 1850 Census when census takers asked each person if they had been married "within the last year." This "marital history" question remained the same for the 1860 and 1870 Censuses. In 1880, the "marital status" question specifically asked if each person in the household was single, married, widowed, or divorced. The 1890 Census included additional inquiries for women who had ever been married to determine how many children they had and how many children were still living.

The 2000 Census was the last to collect marital data for all adults, as those questions moved to the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2005. Today, the ACS questionnaire asks respondents if they are currently married, widowed, divorced, separated, or never married; whether their marital status changed in the past 12 months (married, widowed, or divorced); number of marriages; and year of last marriage.

In 2020, the ACS estimated that 48.1 percent of the nation's population aged 15 and older was currently married; 5.7 percent was widowed; 10.8 percent was divorced; 1.8 percent was separated; and 33.5 percent had never been married.

There were more than 58.8 million married-couple households in the United States in 2020; nearly 8 million cohabiting couple households; and 21.8 million male and 33.8 million female householders without a spouse or partner present.

This Month in Census History

On February 18, 1907, the Census Bureau announced that 6.6 percent of automobiles manufactured in the United States in 1905 were electric vehicles. Gasoline-powered cars dominated the market.

In February 2022, data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed that sales of electric vehicles surpassed those built in 1905, reaching 10.9 percent by the end of 2021.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: January 12, 2023