1890 United States census

The United States Census of 1890 was taken beginning June 2, 1890. It determined the resident population of the United States to be 62,979,766—an increase of 25.5 percent over the 50,189,209 persons enumerated during the 1880 census. 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 and fragments of the US census population schedule exist only for the states of Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas, and the District of Columbia.

This was the first census in which a majority of states recorded populations of over one million, as well as the first in which multiple cities – New York as of 1880, Chicago, and Philadelphia – recorded populations of over one million. The census also saw Chicago rise in rank to the nation's second most populous city, a position it would hold until Los Angeles (then 57th) would supplant it in 1990.

The 1890 census was the first to be compiled using methods invented by Herman Hollerith and was overseen by Superintendents Robert P. Porter (1889–1893) and Carroll D. Wright (1893–1897). Data was entered on a machine readable medium, punched cards, and tabulated by machine.[2] The net effect of the many changes from the 1880 census: the larger population, the number of data items to be collected, the Census Bureau headcount, the volume of scheduled publications, and the use of Hollerith's electromechanical tabulators, was to reduce the time required to process the census from eight years for the 1880 census to six years for the 1890 census.[3] The total population of 62,947,714, the family, or rough, count, was announced after only six weeks of processing (punched cards were not used for this tabulation).[4][5] The public reaction to this tabulation was disbelief, as it was widely believed that the "right answer" was at least 75,000,000.[6]

The United States census of 1890 showed a total of 248,253 Native Americans living in the United States, down from 400,764 Native Americans identified in the census of 1850.[7]

The 1890 census announced that the frontier region of the United States no longer existed,[8] 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.[9]

The original data for the 1890 Census is mostly not 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 presumed destroyed and another 50% damaged by smoke and water (although the actual damage may have been closer to 15–25%). The damage to the records led to an outcry for a permanent National Archives.[10][11] 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 some information has been lost are the 1800 and 1810 enumerations.[citation needed]

Few sets of microdata from the 1890 census survive,[12] but aggregate data for small areas, together with compatible cartographic boundary files, can be downloaded from the National Historical Geographic Information System.