The U.S. Census Bureau celebrates its birthday on August 2. It was 228 years ago, in 1790, that Congress, then in its second year, assigned 350 marshals the responsibility of counting the less than 4 million Americans across the young Union’s 13 states and additional territories.
Every decade since then, the Census Bureau has sought to count and learn about every person living in the United States, and its importance cannot be overstated. Census figures are used to determine congressional representation, federal funding, social and economic planning, and more. While it might seem like an annoyance for some people, an accurate census count determines whether they are represented and supported by their government.
The size of the undertaking, as well as the technology and workforce used to collect this information has changed over time — hand counting was replaced by punch card machines, then basic computers. Today, the Census is finally starting to move to a fully digital system, and is encouraging respondents this year to submit questions online.
Racial and ethnic definitions, for example, are still improving to this day to include marginalized parts of the population. Most non-white and immigrant groups have fallen into the category of “Other” for most of the history of the Census.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical information regarding the U.S. Census from the bureau’s site as well as other sources, including an interview with former Census director Vincent Barabba, to collect some important facts on the institution and the decennial Census.