Harper's Weekly 01/11/1890



Every decade the country takes a census of its
population. As the first one was taken in 1790,
the eleventh will be taken in 1890, and being the
centennial census, it will prove of more than
ordinary interest. It will also be the greatest
census ever taken in the history of the world.
Since the last one was taken (that of 1880) the
country has so largely increased not only in the
number of its inhabitants, but in its wealth and
the variety and extent of its industries, that the
census of this year will far exceed in magnitude
any preceding it. With one exception it will be
greater than any ever taken of a foreign country;
for though this country has had a political exist-
ence of only a century, so rapid has been its
development that in its population it is now ex-
ceeded only by India, China, and Russia. Only
in the first-mentioned of these nations is a census
ever taken.

The original purpose of the census in this
republic was to determine the population of each
State as a basis for representation in Congress,
and the schedules of the first census, carefully
preserved in the archives of the Department of
the Interior, give but scanty information, except
as to the number and race of persons enumerated,
and there is plenty of evidence that even the in-
quiries as to number were not very exhaustive.
The whole expense of the census was less than
$25,000, or an average of about $2000 to a State,
and this of itself would indicate that no very
thorough work could have been done. The pub-
lished report made a volume of only fifty-two
pages, the population being tabulated only by
race and age.

The census served its purpose, however; but as
the time approached for taking the second one
a suggestion was offered in Congress that in the
enumeration of the inhabitants about to be made
inquiry should ad the same time be made as to
the social and material condition of the coun-
try. The suggestion, however, met with but little
favor. So jealous was Congress of the power of
the central government that it would tolerate no
Federal officer within the sacred precincts of a
State armed with a schedule, and inquiring how
many bushels of potatoes, corn, and wheat had
been raised the previous year; and so, unfortu-
nately, the schedules of the second census (1800)
are as barren as those of the first.

In the census of 1810, however, a few inqui-
ries as to social condition were made, but the in-
formation gleaned not being complete, it has not
been deemed of much value. As a step toward
a more complete census, however, it proved of
great importance, and in each succeeding decade
the scope of inquiries was enlarged, until in 1830
there was brought together no little information
concerning the resources of the country and the
social condition of the people. Not until 1850
was there anything like a complete census taken.
Previous to that time, even in the matter of pop-
ulation, the names of heads of families only had
been entered upon the schedules, but in taking
this census the name of every man, woman, and
child was entered in full, and record made of his
or her age, occupation, place of nativity, whether
married or single, deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or
idiotic. There also appears in great detail the
value of farms and farm products, of the manu-
facturing industries, of the ships and shipping
trade, and the financial condition of the towns,
cities, and counties, together with full informa-
tion as to free and other schools and the ex-
penses of their maintenance.

Never had there been brought together such
an amount of exact and detailed information con-
cerning a country of such a size as was contained
in the schedules of that census. The volumes of
the Domesday-Book, containing similar though
less complete information of England upon the
accession to the throne of William of Normandy,
are preserved in glass cases in the British Mu-
seum as among the most cherished treasures of
the realm. Who can foresee with what interest
our descendants a thousand years from now will
scan these census schedules for a record of their
primitive ancestors? Every census since 1850
has been taken under the authority and direction
of the census act of that year, with but little
modification of extension of its provisions.

The preparations for taking the eleventh cen-
sus are now well way. The census of a
country has been aptly spoken of as a photo-
graph of its social and economic conditions. The
analogy is not only in the picture obtained, but
in the method of obtaining it. The enumeration
in the census corresponds to the exposure of the
plate in photography, and the tabulation to the
development of the picture taken. The first
great work of the census (the enumeration) must
necessarily be done in the field. For this pur-
pose the country is being divided into 175 dis-
tricts, as nearly of the same size as practicable,
reference being had to State lines. In each of
these districts the President will this winter ap-
point a person as supervisor, and this officer will
divide his district into subdivisions, each to con-
tain not more than 4000 inhabitants, as shown
by the last census, and will designate a suitable
man therein as enumerator. Upon the faithful
work of this officer will largely depend the value
of the census. In due time he will be furnished
by the Census Office with a book of about thirty
pages, containing full information as to the du-
ties he is to perform, and also with various sche-
dules, which he is expected to fill out properly,
and that without any omission or evasion.

The inquiries of his schedules are of the same
character as those mentioned of the census act
of 1850, but more in detail, and in addition there-
to he is required, among other things, to enter
upon a special schedule the names of all men
who during the civil war belonged to the army,
navy, or the marine corps, and of the widows and
minor children of such soldiers, sailors, or ma-
rines. Hardly an outline of the inquiries can be
given, so varied and numerous are they. By the
time the enumerator has read them, and has di-
gested the contents of his book of instructions,
the first Monday in June will have come, and he
must then start to visit personally every house in
his district. To the racking anxiety of mind
which the reading of his schedules and book is
likely to produce, there will now be added the
fear of the farmers' dogs and the discomforts of
the heat and dust as he tramps through the long
June days. But having put his hand to the
plough he cannot turn back, or even take a rest,
unless he is willing to sacrifice the compensation
he has already earned and pay a fine of $500.
Except in case of sickness, he must have his work
done and the schedules all filled out and in the
hands of the supervisor on or before the first
day of July, and this officer will forward them to
the Census Office as soon as he is satisfied of
their correctness, and the first great work of tak-
ing the census will be completed, and the curtain
will fall over the camera.

The schedules received from the enumerators
will give more or less definite information con-
cerning every person residing in the United States,
and will set forth in detail complete information
as to the crops the farmer has raised and the
output of all manufacturing establishments dur-
ing the census year, with the amount of capital
invested in these enterprises; the rates of wages
paid for service; the number of schools, colleges,
and libraries; charitable, reformatory, and penal
institutions, and cost of maintaining them; but
the information, to be of any value, must first be
developed by a process of tabulation, and this—
the second part of the work of taking the cen-
sus—will be done in the office at Washington.

Naturally the ascertaining of the population of
the country by States and minor political divi-
sions will first engage attention, and this can be
done by simply counting the number of persons
named in the schedules, regardless of race, color,
sex, age, or nativity, as for representative pur-
poses every person in a State now counts one,
excepting a few Indians not taxed. The classi-
fication of the population in accordance with some
well-defined grouping of facts will follow. For
this purpose some well-known political division—
as township, or county, or perhaps the enumerator's
district—will be taken as a unit of area. The sched-
ules for that section will be brought together, and
the desired information will be tabulated by a cer-
tain division of the office. Thus there may first be
shown the number on the schedule of each sex,
and the number of each race, as whites, blacks,
mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, Chinese, Japan-
ese, and Indians. The grouping once settled upon,
the tally clerks will take up the schedules, and
going carefully over them will jot down the num-
bers by tally marks on sheets of paper in the
columns headed for the information desired.
When the schedules are finished the tallies under
each heading will be counted, and the clerk in
charge will forward the results to another divi-
sion of the office, where they will be combined
with similar ones of other sections, until the en-
tire country is completed. Then the tally clerks
go over their schedules again, and jot down an-
other grouping of facts; perhaps this time the
civil condition, showing the number of single,
married, widowed, and divorced persons. This
done, the same might follow concerning the col-
ored and other races; then there will be group-
ings according to nativities, occupations, ages,
illiteracy, etc. Then all the agricultural and
manufactured products must be grouped and
combined. Whatever may be the grouping de-
sired, however, the schedules must in every case
be gone over, the information jotted down on
tally sheets, and results summarized and com-
bined as in the first instance. The superintend-
ent can, however, at his discretion, withhold from
the enumerators certain schedules of mining
products, recorded indebtedness, fisheries and
other industries, and place them in the hands of
persons specially qualified to make such inquiries
as he may deem best; but no labor will be saved
thereby in the enumeration, and the methods of
tabulation will be the same in any case.

The results of the tabulation will eventually
be published, and will probably be embraced in
about twenty-five volumes. These will constitute
the reports of the eleventh census, and will be
the picture of the condition of the country devel-
oped from the enumerators' schedules. These
schedules will then be bound, and file away with
those of every previous census, and the work of
taking the eleventh census will be completed.
Few persons not connected with the taking of
the census can have any idea of the magnitude
of the work involved. It is estimated that the
population of the country will number about
65,000,000. If the names of that number of per-
sons are entered one above another on lines half
an inch apart, the schedule of them would extend
500 miles. To do the enumerating there will be
required 40,000 officers; and if each one works
a month, the labor will be equivalent to that of
one man for 3333 years.

The central office prepares and sends out va-
rious schedules and instructions, but its great
work is the tabulating of the enumerators' re-
turns. In compiling the tenth census it took
1500 persons two years to complete the work,
and then much important material was left un-
touched for want of time. The tabulating work
of the coming census will naturally be greater
than that of 1880. The population of itself will
probably be twenty-five per cent. greater than in
1880, and, other things being equal, the work of
tabulation increases at a greater ratio than that
of the population. Then the returns of the sur-
viving soldiers, sailors, and marines of the civil
war, and the widows and orphans of those who
have died, will fill a large quarto volume of them-
selves; and to make the volume of any use the
names must be grouped alphabetically, and, if
men, by the company or regiment in which each

This work is all additional, and will of itself
involve a vast amount of labor, but with the in-
creasing agitation for additional pension legisla-
tion, the work will prove of more value than its
probable expense at the highest estimate. Tak-
ing the increase in population and the new labors
imposed, it will probably take 2000 persons two
years to complete the tabulation. The magnitude
of the office work will, however, largely depend
upon the discretion of the superintendent, as the
groupings and comparisons which can be made
from the schedules have practically no limit.
The classifications of “occupations” alone can
be made few or many as may be deemed best.
In the tenth census they were tabulated under
265 heads. In the census of England in 1881
the occupations of that country were tabulated
under 399, and in a recent census of Germany
those of that country under 153 heads. But in
the census of the State of Massachusetts of 1885
there are shown in that commonwealth more than
20,000 occupations. To the extent to which the
classification was carried is probably due items
like these:

Peddlers of horseradish
Peddlers of horseradish and hulled corn
Peddlers of hulled corn
Retired sausage merchant

As comparisons of groups of population are
usually made with principal occupations, the la-
bor of tabulating can be increased or diminished
at the will of the superintendent, and what is true
in this instance will apply in all other classifica-
tions and groupings of facts.

No method of tabulating other than by going
over the schedules and jotting down on tally
sheets the information desired has ever proved
entirely satisfactory. In some cases cards have
been used for tabulating. The facts to be group-
ed were noted on them, and the cards then dis-
tributed or filed according to the grouping de-
sired. Should this method be employed in tab-
ulating the next census, it is estimated that the
number of cards required, piled singly, would
make a stack ten miles high, weighing about 450
tons, and if the cards should be misplaced, endless
confusion would result.

There is also suggested a plan of tabulating
by electrical appliances. For that purpose a ma-
chine has been invented which can read and
count, but, like a good clerk, does not talk. The
facts to be tabulated are written on cards in an
alphabet made up of holes punched through the
pasteboard, each hole representing a fact, to be
grouped and added. Thus a card may be made
to read “White Male,”“Aged between 30 and
40,”“Farmer,”“Born in United States,”“Pa-
rents Foreigners,”“Married,” and when such a
card is put into the machine, little needles come
down, and those that can pass through the card
close electrical circuits, causing the hands of the
connecting dials to move forward respectively
one point, thus registering the facts set forth in
the cards. Once adjusted the dial can record
no other fact if the card is properly punched.
Should the machine work as claimed by the in-
ventor, considerable labor of tabulation may be
saved by its use.

To pay for the expense of taking the census
Congress has appropriated $6,400,000, exclusive
of the expense of printing. Similar work of the
tenth census cost over $5,000,000. But by law
considerable expense must be incurred in taking
the eleventh census in addition to the unavoid-
able increase through the growth of the country.
The enumerators have increased compensation,
as follows:



For each inhabitant enumerated
For each death recorded
For each form returned
For each industry reported
For each soldier, sailor, etc

Then the additional data required to be tabu-
lated will add not a little to the cost, and it is
doubtful whether the amount appropriated will
be sufficient. Certainly it will not if the infor-
mation furnished by the schedules is compiled
with the fulness and completeness it deserves.

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