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Through the Decades

LBJ in front of population clock
An enumerator conducts an interview for the 1920 Census.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The census has been taken every ten years since the early days of the United States of America.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau carries out hundreds of surveys every year, its mostwell-known duty is still to conduct the decennial census. Census results haveseveral high profile applications: they are used to reapportion seats in theHouse of Representatives, to realign congressional districts, and as a factorin the formulas that distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal fundseach year. Because of the importance of this population count, procedural changesin the decennial census often reflect larger organizational shifts at the CensusBureau.

This section follows the evolution of the decennial census by detailing the events surrounding each of them. Political and technological changes, and the shifting public demand for information, have all shaped the modern census and the mission of the Census Bureau.

Individual census records from 1790 to 1940 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 2010 are available at https://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html.

Visit the National Archives Web site to access 1940 Census records—http://1940census.archives.gov.

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 1790–1940 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.