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Director Biographies

Directors 1865 - 1893

Before it became a permanent agency in 1902, the Census Office shut down after it finished publishing the results of each census. Because of this, there were several periods in the nineteenth century in which there was no director.

Francis Amasa WalkerFrancis Amasa Walker (1870 and 1879-1881): Walker was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1840. He graduated from Amherst in 1860, and was studying to join the bar when the Civil War began. He enlisted as a sergeant major, but was quickly promoted, eventually becoming a brigadier general. Because of this, many contemporaries and historians refer to him as "General Walker."

In 1869 he became chief of the Bureau of Statistics at the Treasury Department. The secretary of the interior appointed him as superintendent of the ninth census in 1870. In 1871, he was appointed commissioner of Indian affairs, although he also continued to serve as superintendent of the census without remuneration. He resigned both posts in December 1872 to become professor of political economy and history at Yale. He was appointed superintendent of the tenth census in 1879, but resigned about a year later to become president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a post he held until his death in 1897. Walker was one of the preeminent economic voices of his day, especially in regard to wage and labor theory.

A prolific author of texts on economics, he also was president of the American Statistical Association (1882-97), the first president of the American Economics Association (1885-92), and served as vice-president of the National Academy of Sciences (1891-97).

Learn more about Walker's Civil War experience in Captured! The Civil War Experience of Superintendent of the Census Francis Amasa Walker.

Charles W. SeatonCharles W. Seaton (1881-1885): Seaton was born in Norfolk, New York, in 1831 and served as an officer in the Civil War with the First Vermont Sharpshooters. He resigned his commission in 1864 to become an agent in the pension department of the Sanitary Commission, and later, chief clerk of the U.S. Pension Office. Seaton served as a division chief in the 1870 census and was superintendent of the New York state census of 1875. In 1879, he was appointed chief clerk of the tenth census under Francis Amasa Walker. When Walker resigned in 1881 to accept the presidency of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Seaton succeeded him as superintendent of the census, serving until the temporary Census Office closed. He died in Vermont in March 1885.

By 1870, the census had become so extensive that it could no longer be processed by inaccurate and expensive hand tabulations. In a bid to solve this problem, Seaton invented a machine to tally census results. It was first used by the office in 1872 for the 1870 census and then again in 1880 before being replaced by Herman Hollerith’s electronic tabulation machine in 1890. Seaton also invented a matrix printing apparatus for census work.

Robert Percival Porter Robert Percival Porter (1889-1893): Robert Porter was born in Norwich, England, but was sent as a child to live with relatives in California. His first job, at age 20, was as a reporter for the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean. In 1880-81, he worked with Francis A. Walker in the preparation of reports on wealth, debt, and taxation for the 1880 census. He attracted the attention of President Chester A. Arthur, who appointed him to the Tariff Commission in 1882. From 1884-1887, he held positions on the editorial staffs of the New York Tribune and the Philadelphia Press and in 1887 was a cofounder of the New York Press.

Appointed superintendent of the 1890 census, he made extensive use of the Hollerith electrical tabulating machines and considerably increased the scope of the census. He promulgated the idea of the "end of the frontier" in the 1890 census publications, pointing out that there was no longer a discernable “frontier line” between high and low population density areas of the country.

In 1898, President McKinley appointed him special tariff and fiscal commissioner to Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1899, at the request of the President, he induced General Maximo Gomez to disband the Cuban Army. He joined the staff of the London Times in 1904. He traveled widely and wrote extensively on a variety of social and economic topics, including a biography of President McKinley and the rise of Japan as a modern power. He was also a founder and director of the British Tabulating Machine Company. He died as a result of an automobile accident in 1917.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: January 05, 2022