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Census Data: Historical Census Data

A guide to the information from the US Census Bureau.

Historical Census Information

Census statistics have been collected in the United States every ten years since 1790. The Library collects the major publications from each census; they are listed in the UCSB Library catalog, and housed in the Government Information collection. Statistics are available for population, housing, and social and economic characteristics. Statistics are collected separately for businesses, agriculture, and governmental bodies.

See the Databases tab for digital access to census data.  Other tabs will have a mix of online and print items listed.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) originated as the Work Projects Administration's (WPA) Sample Survey of Unemployment in 1940 and was the first attempt to measure unemployment in the United States on a continuing basis. The Census Bureau took over the 20,000-household survey in 1942 and retitled it the Monthly Report on the Labor Force. Refined and enlarged several times, in 1947 the Census Bureau gave the CPS its current name and began collecting a variety of other social and demographic statistics to supplement the survey. In 1959, the Bureau of Labor Statistics became a co-sponsor of the CPS.

Background Information:

Current Population Reports:
The Census Bureau produces three reports derived from the Current Population Survey. Some of these reports can be found in print at: GIC C 3.186:. Dates of coverage for the UCSB Library's collections will be listed below. Additional reports may be available from the CPS Publications site. 

  • P20, Population Characteristics
    • Information on geographic residence and mobility; school enrollment; marital status and living arrangements; households and families; and the Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, and Hispanic populations. These reports, many of which were issued every year, are now issued every other year.
    • The Library has publications from 1946+.
  • P23, Special Studies
    • Information pertaining to methods, concepts, or specialized data: in addition, series includes occasional reports on family life, women, voter turnout, computer use, and other topics.
    • The Library has publications from 1957+.
  • P60, Consumer Income and Poverty
    • Information concerning families, individuals, and households at various income levels. Data are also presented on noncash benefits and the relationship of income to age, sex, race, family size, education, occupation, work experience, and other characteristics.
    • The Library has publications from 1946+.

Subject Index to the Current Population Reports [PDF]

Census geographic levels have changed over time. A good source for historical background is:

The diagram below illustrates the legal and statistical entities for which the Census Bureau currently tabulates data during the decennial census. diagram of geographic terms used in the census

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Geography Division]

The UCSB Library has tract and block maps from their first printing in 1940. Pre-1990 census maps, and 1990 tract maps, frequently were bound or shelved with Census volumes.

1990 block maps:

  • Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura counties: GIC C 3.224/5:90-1-6-79X/PT.1-2
  • Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura counties.

2000 block maps:

  • Santa Barbara County only: GIC C 3.224/5:PHC 2000-1-6-75/MAPS
  • Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura counties.

2000 tract maps:

  • California only: GIC: C 3.223/11:2000/06/COUNTYNOX/MAPS

Historical Census Timetable

  • 1790 – first census
  • 1810 – first Census of Manufactures (now Census of Manufacturing)
  • 1820 – Foreign Trade statistics first compiled
  • 1840 – first Census of Mineral Industries and Census of Agriculture
  • 1850 – first Census of Governments
  • 1905 – Census of Manufactures taken separately from decennial census
  • 1920 – Data first collected at tract level for eight cities (not published, but available for purchase)
  • 1925 – Census of Agriculture taken separately from decennial census
  • 1929 – first Census of Business (later called Economic Census)
  • 1930 – first Census of Construction Industries, Retail Trade, and Wholesale Trade
  • 1933 – Census of Business taken separately from decennial census; Services Trade first taken
  • 1940 – Use of sampling began
  • 1940 – Census tracts and blocks first adopted as official geographic entity (data first published)
  • 1950 – Census of Population expanded into Census of Population and Housing
  • 1963 – first Census of Transportation
  • 1972 – Census of Business divided into Census of Retail Trade, Census of Service Industries, Census of Wholesale Trade
  • 1985 – TIGER digital geographic database developed; first used with the 1990 census
  • 1992 – Census of Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Industries separated from Census of Construction
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