The United States Constitution states that “the actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.” The first census was taken in 1790 in the original 13 states, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory.
The 1800 and 1810 population censuses were taken in a similar method and scope as the first one. For instance, inquiries on manufacturing were first added to the 1810 census. The 1820 census began to include the number of inhabitants engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing.
In the 1830’s, due to the substantial coverage on population, uniform printed schedules were first use for collecting census information. The census act of 1840 authorized the establishment of a centralized census office during each enumeration. New schedules including school attendance, illiteracy and type of occupation were added to the 1840 census and later censuses.
For the first time, in the 1850 census, social statistical information about taxes, schools, crime, wages, and values of estate were collected. The practice and methods used to collect population and housing data in the early years helped set up the foundation for gathering modern population and housing information. After 1860, the scope of housing and population censuses expanded even larger to cover, not only the Great West Settlement in 1890, but also the continental States and territories in 1900.
The Census Bureau was established permanently in the Department of the Interior in 1902. In 1903 the Bureau moved to the Department of Commerce and Labor. The bureau moved once more when the Labor Department was underwent a split in 1913.
From 1950 through the 1990’s, the Census Bureau made some significant changes in different areas including: collecting rough data; the distributing and publishing of the Census data; adapting advanced statistical techniques; and the use of an electronic computer. Questionnaires were primarily mailed to every occupied housing unit to collect population and housing data. The Bureau now collected the statistics and made them available through press releases, and detailed bulletins and abstracts and final reports as the data was processed. Advanced statistical techniques, such as probability sampling, were introduced to improve the efficiency of reviewing the quality of the census data process. The Universal Automatic Computer was first used in 1950 to help tabulate census statistics. After 1980, some data were made available on diskettes or microcomputers and later, on CD-ROMs and DVDs.
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