Technology And The Census
June 2, 2010 by Chip Wood
On June 1, 1890, some 45,000 census workers set out to count every person then living in the United States. And for the first time they had modern technology to help in their efforts.
Seems 30-year-old Herman Hollerith had invented a counting machine that worked faster than any method previously tried. It worked by punching holes in designated places on a card—just like a train conductor punches a ticket. The cards were then “read” by a tabulating machine.
The result? Americans learned that there were precisely 62,622,249 of their follow citizens living in the U.S. in 1890. That was an increase of almost 25 percent from the tally 10 years earlier.
Hollerith went on to found the Tabulating Machine Company in 1896. After a series of mergers and reorganizations the company was renamed the International Business Machine Company. Today it is better known as “Big Blue,” or IBM. And it makes machines that can count a heck of a lot faster than anything Hollerith ever dreamed of.
Oh, and one interesting footnote: While we have five times as many people in this country than we did in 1890, it’s going to take 33 times more census workers to count all of them. Seems there are some things technology can’t make better.