1890 United States Census

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1890 Census form

The Eleventh United States Census was taken June 2, 1890. The data was tabulated by machine for the first time. The data reported that the distribution of the population had resulted in the disappearance of the American frontier. Most of the 1890 census materials were destroyed in a 1921 fire.

Census questionsEdit

The 1890 census collected the following information[1]:

  • address
  • number of families in house
  • number of persons in house
  • names
  • whether a soldier, sailor or marine (Union or Confederate) during Civil War, or widow of such person
  • relationship to head of family
  • race, described as white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
  • sex
  • age
  • marital status
  • married within the year
  • mother of how many children, and number now living
  • place of birth of person, and their father and mother
  • if foreign-born, number of years in US
  • whether naturalized
  • whether papers have been taken out
  • profession, trade or occupation
  • months unemployed during census year
  • ability to read and write
  • ability to speak English, and, if unable, language or dialect spoken
  • whether suffering from acute or chronic disease, with name of disease and length of time afflicted
  • whether defective in mind, sight, hearing or speech, or whether crippled, maimed or deformed, with name of defect
  • whether a prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper
  • home rented, or owned by head or member of family, and, if owned, whether free from mortgage
  • if farmer, whether farm is rented, or owned by head or member of family; if owned, whether free from mortgage; if rented, post office box of owner


The 1890 census was the first to be compiled using methods invented by Herman Hollerith. Data was entered on a machine readable medium, punched cards, and tabulated by machine.[2][3] This technology reduced the time required to tabulate the census from eight years for the 1880 census to one year for the 1890 census.[3] The total population of 62,947,714[4] was announced after only six weeks of processing. The public reaction to this tabulation was disbelief, as it was widely believed that the "right answer" was at least 75,000,000.

Significant findingsEdit

The United States census of 1890 showed a total of 248,253 Native Americans living in America, down from 400,764 Native Americans identified in the census of 1850.[5]

The 1890 census announced that the frontier region of the United States no longer existed[6] and that the Census Bureau would no longer track the westward migration of the U.S. population. Up to and including the 1880 census, the country had a frontier of settlement. By 1890, isolated bodies of settlement had broken into the unsettled area to the extent that there was hardly a frontier line. This prompted Frederick Jackson Turner to develop his Frontier Thesis.[7]

Data availabilityEdit

The original data for the 1890 Census is no longer available. Almost all the population schedules were damaged in a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. in 1921. Some 25% of the materials were destroyed and another 50% damaged by smoke and water. The damage to the records led to an outcry for a permanent National Archives. In December 1932, following standard Federal record-keeping procedures, the Chief Clerk of the Bureau of the Census sent the Librarian of Congress a list of papers to be destroyed, including the original 1890 census schedules. The Librarian was asked by the Bureau to identify any records which should be retained for historical purposes, but the Librarian did not accept the census records. Congress authorized destruction of that list of records on February 21, 1933, and the surviving original 1890 census records were destroyed by government order by 1934 or 1935. The other censuses for which almost all information has been lost are the 1800 and 1810 enumerations.

No microdata from the 1890 census survive, but aggregate data for small areas, together with compatible cartographic boundary files, can be downloaded from the National Historical Geographic Information System.


  1. ^ "Library Bibliography Bulletin 88, New York State Census Records, 1790-1925". New York State Library. October 1981. pp. 44 (p. 50 of PDF). 
  2. ^ Truesdell, Leon E. (1965). The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in the Bureau of the Census: 1890-1940. US GPO. 
  3. ^ a b Hollerith's Electric Sorting and Tabulating Machine, ca. 1895 from the American Memory archives of the Library of Congress
  4. ^ "Population and Area (Historical Censuses)" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. 
  5. ^ Dippie, Brian W. The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1982, p. ??. The data yielded by this census provided strong evidence that the United States' policies towards Native Americans had had a significant impact on the enumeration of the census in the second half of the 19th century. US domestic policy combined with wars, genocide, famine, disease, a declining birthrate, and exogamy (with the children of biracial families declaring themselves to be white rather than Indian) accounted for the decrease in the enumeration of the census. Chalk, Frank and Kurt Jonassohn. The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. ??
  6. ^ Porter, Robert; Gannett, Henry; Hunt, William (1895). "Progress of the Nation", in "Report on Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890, Part 1". Bureau of the Census. pp. xviii-xxxiv. 
  7. ^ Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner Compiled by Everett E. Edwards (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), pp. ??

External linksEdit

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at 1890 United States Census. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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