NARA expects to digitally release the 1950 population census schedules for researcher use on April 1, 2022, which is 72 years after the official 1950 census day of April 1, 1950. This is the eighth in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.

 

It is impossible to conduct a national census in just one day.  The 1950 census enumeration districts were designed to enable the enumerator to finish the count within two weeks in urban areas and within 30 days in rural areas.  However, for statistical purposes, it’s important that the data refer to a specific fixed date—the official census day.  In 1950, the official census day was April 1, 1950.  Enumerators were instructed:

 

Census date.—The Census must count all persons living in the United States on April 1, 1950, and must count them where they usually live.  All persons who were living on that date should be included and babies born after that date should be excluded.  (Paragraph 68, Urban and Rural Enumerator’s Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, page 22.)

 

Image:  A homeowner takes a break from cutting the grass to be interviewed for the 1950 census.  Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau

Image:  A homeowner takes a break from cutting the grass to be interviewed for the 1950 census.  Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau, online at https://www.census.gov/history/www/faqs/demographic_faqs/what_day_was_the_census_taken_each_decade.html

 

Every U.S. census has had an “official census day” that has varied over time:

 

1790:  August 2  (1st Monday)

1800:  August 4  (1st Monday)

1810:  August 6  (1st Monday)

1820:  August 7  (1st Monday)

1830:  June 1

1840:  June 1

1850:  June 1

1860:  June 1

1870:  June 1

1880:  June 1

1890:  June 2  (June 1 was a Sunday)

1900:  June 1

1910:  April 15

1920:  January 1

1930:  April 1

1940:  April 1

1950:  April 1

1960:  April 1

1970:  April 1

1980:  April 1

1990:  April 1

2000:  April 1

2010:  April 1

2020:  April 1

 

It’s likely that the earliest censuses may have been conducted without strict regard for the “census day” since U.S. Marshals and their assistants were given nine months to complete the task in 1790-1800, and six months in 1810-1820.  In 1820, the marshals were even given an extension to September 1, 1821!

 

The switch from the first Monday in August to June 1 for 1830-1900 resulted from President John Quincy Adams’s suggestion to Congress that the census start earlier than August.  June 1, 1890, was a Sunday, so the official date was moved to Monday, June 2. The switch to April 15 was made in 1910 because the director of Bureau of the Census felt that part of the urban population would be away from home in June on summer vacations.

 

The date change to January 1 for the 1920 census was requested by the Department of Agriculture that believed that all harvests would be completed and information would still be fresh in farmers’ minds.  Also, it argued that more people would be at home in January than in April. However, the likely dreadful state of snow-covered roads in northern rural areas probably made it abundantly clear that January was a terrible time to try to conduct a census.  Thus, the census moved back to springtime with April 1 as the official census day from 1930 to the present.