U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

end of header


You are here: Census.govHistoryHome Page Archive2017 › October 2017
Skip top of page navigation


October 2017

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

U.S. Census Bureau History: Manufacturing

B17E Construction

Franklin D. Roosevelt received The Feasibility Study Link to a non-federal Web site on December 4, 1941. It used census
data to identify what the nation needed to defeat the Axis powers and how quickly American
manufacturing could convert to war production.

The study proved so comprehensive that the Allies used it to develop The Victory Plan and
accurately predicted that the Allies would be ready to invade France in late spring 1944.

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

Manufacturing day has been celebrated in the United States since 2011, and in 2014, President Barack Obama designated October 2 as National Manufacturing Day. The day is an opportunity for manufacturers and manufacturing associations to teach the public more about their industries, highlight the vital role manufacturing plays in our economies, and inspire the next generation of manufacturers. The value of American manufacturing is regularly measured by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies. Through its monthly, quarterly, and annual surveys and the quinquennial economic census, the Census Bureau collects detailed statistics about imports and exports, manufacturing employment, production costs, and other key data that measure the health of the manufacturing sector.

The United States began collecting data about the nation's manufacturers during the 1810 Census. At that time, Secretary of the Treasury instructed enumerators to give "an account of the several manufacturing establishments and manufactures within their several districts, territories, and divisions" for 25 broad categories encompassing more than 220 kinds of goods including buttons, clocks and watches, gunpowder, ploughs, and whale oil. Total value of the nation's manufactures probably exceeded $200 million, but because of omissions and undercounts, the reported value was $173 million.

With the exception of 1830, the United States collected manufacturing data every 10 years during the 19th century. Following establishment of a permanent Census Bureau in 1902, one of the agency's first tasks was to conduct the 1905 Census of Manufactures. Today, manufacturing data collected by the Census Bureau provide vital information about the health of the nation's manufacturing sector and serve as economic indicators for the nation's policy makers, financial markets, and business leaders.

You can learn more about the nation's manufacturers and its 207-year history of collecting manufacturing data using data and records collected by the Census Bureau and other federal agencies. For example:

  • From 1810 until 1900, the Census Bureau collected manufacturing data in conjunction with the population census. Following establishment of a permanent Census Bureau in 1902, the agency's first census was the 1905 Census of Manufactures. Today, the economic census is conducted quinquennially—or every 5 years—for years ending in "2" and "7." In May 2018, the Census Bureau will send letters to businesses with instructions on how they can report data online for the 2017 Economic Census.
  • Between 1899 and 1909, the number of manufacturing establishments in the United States grew from 204,754 to 264,810. However, in 1933, the total number of establishments fell to 139,325 as the economy contracted during the Great Depression. Between 1935 and 1963, the number of establishments rose from 167,916 to 306,617, and total manufacturing payroll rose from approximately $9.6 billion to $93.3 billion.
  • Manufacturing data can reflect economic shifts due to financial crisis, military conflicts, and changes in supply and demand. For example:
    • Production of raw steel rose from 11.2 million short tons in 1900 and peaked at 117 million short tons in 1955. Imported foreign steel forced American steel producers to close plants. Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. raw steel production fell 50 percent from 12 to 6 percent of world production.
    • Americans are increasingly dependent on prescription drugs. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, between 2011 and 2014, 48.9 percent of the population used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days and nearly 12 percent of the population used five or more. Foretelling this growing demand, data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the pharmaceutical industry was the only industry to experience employment growth during both the 1990s and 2000s, rising 32.4 percent and 0.8 percent respectively.
    • For decades, apparel manufacturers sought cheaper overseas labor to improve profit margins. As apparel manufacturers accelerated their move to overseas factories, employment in this industry fell sharply in the United States, declining by 46.4 percent between 1990 and 2000, and a further 67.4 percent between 2000 and 2010.
    • Between 1990 and 2010, aerospace industry sales grew from $134.4 billion to $214.5 billion. Aerospace sales to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and other agencies nearly doubled (from $11.1 billion to $22.1 billion) and missile sales grew by more than 189 percent between 2000 and 2010!
  • Sales of new vehicles dropped during the 2007–2009 economic recession from 16,230,000 in 2007 to 10,550,000 in 2009. By 2012, data published by the Census Bureau and other federal agencies showed that the American Automobile industry was recovering. Total value of automobile shipments increased 28.5 percent when compared to 2007. In August 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing (NAICS 3361, 2, 3) accounted for 965,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector (NAICS 31–33). Use census data to learn more about the automobile industry at the archived history homepages for October 2014 and August 2017.
  • Between 2002 and 2012, the number of manufacturing establishments in the United States fell from 350,828 to 297,191, but the value of shipments rose during that same period from approximately $3.9 billion to $5.7 billion. The number of nonemployer manufacturing establishments (establishments without paid employees) rose from 302,856 to 344,658 during the same period.
  • Membership in labor unions mirrors cyclical growth and decline in manufacturing. In 1910, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported approximately 2.1 million American workers were members of unions. By 1920, union membership rose to 5 million. Union membership peaked at 20–21 million in the 1970s. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 14.6 million wage and salary workers belonged to unions.
  • According to 2015 Annual Survey of Manufactures data, the manufacturing sector employed more than 11.2 million employees. In 2015, top manufacturing subsectors included transportation equipment (NAICS 336—1.47 million), food manufacturing (NAICS 311—1.39 million), and fabricated metal products (NAICS 332—1.37 million). The average annual salary for the nation's manufacturing sector employees was approximately $57,000.


"Doffers," like this child at a Lincolnton, NC, mill in 1908, removed full "doffs" or bobbins from spinning frames and replaced them with empty ones.
Prior to implementing strict child labor laws, children in North Carolina (like other states) could work up to 66 hours per week beginning at age 13.
Orphans or children with parents who were unable to work could begin working at any age and for any number of hours.

In 1910, North Carolina was home to 281 cotton goods manufacturers that employed 48,525 people. During the 1910 Census, 74 people in
Lincolnton, NC, listed their occupations as "Doffer" including: 13 year old Sydney Abernathy, 15 year old Lonnie, 12 year old Frederick Caldwell,
and 11 year old William Harrell.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 banned "oppressive child labor," particularly in the textile industry.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

View larger image

Census Board

Acknowledging the deficiencies in the 1810–1840 manufacturing data, Congress established the Census Board in March 1849 to improve data quality for the 1850 Census.

Following consultation with experts, the board developed six schedules to uniformly collect data about the free and slave population, mortality, agriculture, industry, and social statistics.

At the conclusion of data tabulation, the Census Board reported that the total value of manufactures (including fisheries and the products of mines) in 1850 exceeded $1 billion—a 500 percent increase since 1810.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
View larger image

Did You Know

The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (in which 146 garment workers died) remains the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City's history.

Following the fire, labor unions and government regulations began to address unsafe working conditions in American factories.

In 1912, the National Safety Council Link to a non-federal Web site estimated that 18,000–21,000 workers died from work-related injuries. By 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries recorded 4,836 fatal occupational injuries.

This Month in Census History

On October 5, 1978, the "72-Year Rule" became law. Public Law 95-416 restricts access to decennial census records to all but the individual named on the record or their legal heir for 72 years from the date of the census.

In accordance with this law, the National Archives released the 1940 Census records to the public on April 2, 2012. It will release the 1950 Census records on or about April 1, 2022.

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

[PDF] or PDF denotes a file in Adobe’s Portable Document Format. To view the file, you will need the Adobe® Reader® Off Site available free from Adobe. This symbol Off Site indicates a link to a non-government web site. Our linking to these sites does not constitute an endorsement of any products, services or the information found on them. Once you link to another site you are subject to the policies of the new site.
  Is this page helpful?
Thumbs Up Image Yes    Thumbs Down Image No
No, thanks
255 characters remaining
Thank you for your feedback.
Comments or suggestions?
Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021