Why You Wouldn't Want To Be A Census Worker In The 1940s

1940 census

Photo: National Archives

Every 10 years, the Census Bureau records how many people are living in the United States.Today, most households are able to send in their surveys by mail. But in 1940, more than 100,000 Census workers walked house-to-house collecting information about the U.S. population.

The results, which are now available online, provided a snapshot of socioeconomic changes in the midst of the Great Depression.   

A patriotic 1940 Census poster lets Americans know workers will be knocking on their door.

Enumerators used 175,000 maps to visit 147,000 enumeration districts — the area a single enumerator could cover in about two weeks in urban areas or a month in rural areas.

32.2 million housing units and 132.2 million people were counted in the 1940 Census.

That included 5.1 million farmers and farm managers (today that number has been reduced to just 613,000 according to the 2010 American Community Survey)


Here's what the Census form looked like back in 1940. There were a total of 65 questions and a sample of the population was asked an additional set of detailed questions. One question even asked if residents had a Social Security number.

Back at Census headquarters, the information was transferred onto punch cards.

Millions of punch cards were electronically compiled using a tabulating machine.

The results were distributed through press releases, local newspapers and radio stations.

The 1940 Census cost $67.5 million to conduct, or about $1 billion 2010 dollars.

Today, sophisticated machines scan Census information directly from questionnaires.

On the 2010 Census, every household was asked the same 10 basic questions. Most households were able send the form in by mail.

The 1940 Census is a treasure trove of data....

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