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November 2015

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U.S. Census Bureau History: Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Teenage Samuel Clemens working as a printer
Samuel L. Clemens—who used the pen name "Mark Twain"—was born
November 30, 1835, in Monroe County, MO. He left school after the
fifth grade to become a printer's apprentice (pictured above).

November 30 is the birthday of Samuel Langhorne Clemens—the author better known as Mark Twain. Clemens was born in Florida, MO, in 1835, and soon after moved to Hannibal, MO. Leaving school after the fifth grade, Clemens worked as a printer's apprentice and riverboat pilot before a two-week stint with the Confederate Army. When "Gold Fever" drew him westward, Clemens failed to find gold, but did turn a conversation he overheard in Calaveras County, CA, into the popular short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Link to a non-federal Web site. The story garnered the attention of the Sacramento Union newspaper, which sent the author to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands) and serialized the travelogue of his adventures in 1866. Clemens' Sandwich Island success and income from subsequent lectures encouraged the author to travel to Europe and the Middle East and publish his first book—The Innocents Abroad—which quickly became a best seller.

In 1870, Clemens married Olivia Langdon and worked as editor and part owner of the Buffalo Express in Buffalo, NY. The couple, along with son Langdon, moved to Hartford, CT, in 1871. Clemens wrote two of his most beloved books while living in Hartford—The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—which Clemens claimed were inspired by his Hannibal, MO, childhood.

A series of financial and personal tragedies dogged the Clemens family after the author published his last novel—Pudd'nhead Wilson—in 1894. In 1894, Charles L. Webster & Co, the publishing house Clemens founded 10 years earlier, declared bankruptcy. In 1896, his oldest daughter Susy died of meningitis at the family's Hartford, CT, home while her father lectured in Europe to repay creditors; Clemens' wife Olivia died after a lengthy illness in 1904; and his youngest daughter Jean was institutionalized for epilepsy in 1906 and died in 1909. A heartbroken Samuel L. Clemens died at his Redding, CT, home on April 21, 1910.

Today, Clemens is considered by many bibliophiles to be America's greatest author. His writing remains a core component of schools' curriculum because of the depictions of adventures on the Mississippi River and western frontier as well as the harsh reality of slavery, the failures of Reconstruction, government corruption, and imperialism. In 1935, Ernest Hemingway (a literary giant in his own right) stated that, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." Clemens' wit and humor are as relevant today as when first published and his work continues to inspire authors, comedians, politicians, and young boys who want to avoid painting fences or taking baths.

You can learn more about Samuel Langhorne Clemens, his family, and the nation that shaped the author's writing using census data and records. For example:

  • In 1851, Samuel Clemens began working as a typesetter and contributor for the Hannibal Journal newspaper in Hannibal, MO. At that time, the United States was home to approximately 254 daily newspapers. When Clemens died in 1910, there were more than 17,000 daily, Sunday, and weekly newspapers. In 2014, the Newspaper Association of America counted 1,331 daily and 923 Sunday newspapers in the United States.
  • Samuel Clemens began using the pseudonymn "Mark Twain" in February 1863, while working as a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, NV. In 1860, Virginia City's population was 2,345—2,206 men, 139 women. It grew to 7,048 in 1870, and peaked at 10,917, in 1880. In 2013, the American Community Survey estimated Virginia City's population to be 609.
  • Legend has it that Clemens based his 1865 short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Link to a non-federal Web site, on a conversation he overheard at the Angels Hotel in the mining town of Angels Camp, CA. To commemorate the short story, Angels Camp held its first modern frog jump in 1928. The contest became an annual event in the 1930s and today, 35,000 or more attend the "Jumping Frog Jubilee" Link to a non-federal Web site during the third weekend of May.
  • Samuel Clemens lived in Hartford, CT, from 1871 to 1894. During that time, the city grew from 37,180 in 1870 to 53,230 in 1890. When Clemens sold the home in 1903, the city's population was approximately 79,850. More recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Hartford's population was 121,054 in 2020.
  • When Samuel Clemens published A Tramp Abroad about his travels in central and southern Europe in 1880, 2,076 books and pamphlets were published in the United States. The number grew to 4,014 when the author published A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in 1889. Clemen's last novel—Pudd'nhead Wilson—was one of 4,484 books published in 1894. According to Bowker—a provider of bibliographic information—traditional book publishers produced 304,912 titles in 2013. Nontraditional publishers (including reprints of public domain works, self-publishers, and other print-on-demand presses) printed approximately 1.1 million titles.
  • Clemens founded Charles L. Webster & Co. in 1884 to publish his own works as well as those of other authors. Notable books published before Charles L. Webster & Co.'s 1894 bankruptcy included Clemens' The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Merry Tales, and Tom Sawyer Abroad; autobiographies of George B. McClellan, Ulysses S. Grant, and William T. Sherman; Elizabeth Custer's biography of her husband George A. Custer—Tenting on the Plains or General Custer in Kansas and Texas; and books by Walt Whitman and Leo Tolstoy.
  • Clemens sold his Hartford home in 1903, after which it became a school, apartment building, and library. The National Parks Service declared the house a National Historic Landmark in 1962. Today, the Mark Twain House and Museum Link to a non-federal Web site opens the author's home to foster an "appreciation of the legacy of Mark Twain as one of our nation's defining cultural figures."
  • Samuel Clemens died of a heart attack in Redding, CT, at 6:22 on the evening of April 21, 1910. According to mortality data collected by the Census Bureau, such "organic diseases of the heart" accounted for 25 percent of reported deaths in 1910. Clemens, his wife, and four children are all buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, NY. Clemens' last known lineal descendant—Clara's daughter Nina Gabrilowitsch—died January 16, 1966.
  • The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts awards the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Link to a non-federal Web site to individuals making significant contributions to American humor. Awarded annually since 1998, honorees receive a bronze bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt. Recipients include: Carl Reiner (2000), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Neil Simon (2006), George Carlin (2008), and Carol Burnett (2013).

Mark Twain sits with John T. Lewis

Samuel L. Clemens sits with his longtime friend John T. Lewis for a series of photographs taken in 1903. Many scholars
believe Lewis—a tenant farmer from Elmira, NY—inspired the runaway slave character named "Jim" in
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

1937 Unemployment Census
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This Month in Census History

During the week of November 14–20, 1937, the Census Bureau conducted the 1937 Unemployment Census.

The 1937 census was followed by a survey of 2 percent of the nation's labor force—the Census Bureau's first use of statistical sampling—in December 1939. After several months of testing, collection of monthly data on the nation's labor force began in March 1940, and continues today as part of the Current Population Survey.

Mark Twain's Redding, CT home
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Last Interview

One of the last people Samuel L. Clemens spoke to before he died on April 21, 1910, was a census taker conducting the 1910 Census.

The census taker interviewed Clemens at his Redding, CT, home called "Stormfield" (pictured above). The author reported that he was a 74-year-old widower from Missouri and veteran of the Civil War. He was mortgage-free and earned income from humor writing and farming.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Did You Know?

The Census Bureau conducts an annual Public Library Survey for the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In 2012, the survey found that there were 9,082 public libraries in the United States, including Mark Twain Branches of the Los Angeles, CA, Long Beach, CA, and Hartford, CT, public libraries.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: May 23, 2022