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1890 United States Census: Wikis


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1890 Census form

The Eleventh United States Census was taken June 2, 1890. Most of the 1890 census was destroyed in 1921 during a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.

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.[1][2] This introduction of technology reduced the time taken to tabulate the census from eight years for the 1880 census to one year for the 1890 census.[2] The total population of 62,947,714[3] 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.

This census is one of the three for which the original data is no longer available. Almost all the population schedules were damaged in a fire in 1921, with 25% destroyed and 50% damaged by smoke and water. The damage to the records led to an outcry for a permanent National Archives. In December 1932, according to standard Federal record keeping procedure at the time, 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 thus the 1890 census remains were destroyed by government order by 1934 or 1935. The other censuses that have lost almost all information were the 1800 and 1810 enumerations.


Significant findings

The United States census of 1890 showed a total of 248,253 Native Americans living in America. This number was down from the total of 400,764 Native Americans who had been surveyed in the census of 1850.[4] The data yielded by this census provided strong evidence that the United States' policies towards Native Americans had had a significant impact on the population in the second half of the 19th century. This combined with wars, genocide, famine, disease, and a declining birthrate accounted for the decrease in population.[5]

In addition to this, the 1890 census announced that the frontier region of the United States no longer existed and therefore the tracking of westward migration would no longer be tabulated in the census. Up to and including the 1880 census the country had a frontier of settlement, but by 1890 the unsettled area had been broken into by isolated bodies of settlement to the extent that there was hardly a frontier line. The discussion of its extent and its western movement was thus deemed no longer significant in future census reports. This trend prompted Frederick Jackson Turner to develop his milestone Frontier Thesis.[6]

Census questions

The 1890 census collected the following information[7]:

  • 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

Data availability

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. ^ Truesdell, Leon E. (1965). The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in the Bureau of the Census: 1890-1940. US GPO.  
  2. ^ a b Hollerith's Electric Sorting and Tabulating Machine, ca. 1895 from the American Memory archives of the Library of Congress
  3. ^ "Population and Area (Historical Censuses)" (PDF). United States Census Bureau.  
  4. ^ Dippie, Brian W. The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy. Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1982.
  5. ^ Chalk, Frank and Kurt Jonassohn. The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1990.
  6. ^ Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner Compiled by Everett E. Edwards. Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1969.
  7. ^ "Library Bibliography Bulletin 88, New York State Census Records, 1790-1925". New York State Library. October 1981. pp. 44 (p. 50 of PDF).  

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