On April 1, 2022, the National Archives will release the 1950 Census population schedules online. By law, these records have been confidential for 72 years, but on April 1, the public will be able to access and search the census through a dedicated website. To mark this special occasion, the Motion Picture Branch is sharing several public service announcements (PSAs) created by the U.S. Census Bureau now found in Record Group 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007. The following PSA’s were created in advance of the 1950 Census to educate the American public on the importance of the census, how the census works, and who would physically be conducting the census.
Every 10 years since 1790, the U.S. Government conducts the nation wide census of all those residing in the United States. Over time, the way people are counted and the data collected has changed. Currently, citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants are all included in census data. For example. the 1790 census collected data from the original 13 states, plus the districts of Kentucky, Main, Vermont and what would become Tennessee. Participants of that census were asked to answer just 6 questions: the name of the head of the family, how many free white males 16 and over, how many free white males under 16, free white females, all other free persons, and number of enslaved persons (written as slaves in the 1790 census).
By 1950, the census collected data from the continental United States, the territories of Hawaii and Alaska, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands of the United States. The 1950 census was the first time that Americans abroad were counted. There were far more questions asked on the 1950 census when compared to 1790. The full population had to answer 20 questions such as age, marital status, location of birth, if the person was foreign born, and how many hours of work was conducted by each person the previous week.
The following public service announcements discuss the importance of the data collected by the census. The data collected determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is used to distribute federal funds to states and to local communities. The information also helps communities decide where to build schools, supermarkets, homes, libraries, roads, and hospitals. The census allows us to track migration patterns and population growth. Because of the census, we know the total population grew by more than 19 million people from 1940 to 1950, a 14.5 percent increase.
In 2020, for the first time, every household had the option to answer the census online or by phone as well as by mail. Every census from 1960 until 2020, the census was conducted primarily by mail. But, the 1950 census was almost entirely conducted by census workers. In order to maintain credibility and ensure public safety, each census worker was provided with training and identification. Public service announcements were created to show citizens how to identify an official census taker and what to expect during their visit.
The United States has conducted 24 federal censuses since the first in 1790. Data from each previously released census can be found online at the United States Census Bureau website and at the National Archives website. After April 1, 2022, the 1950 census will be live on a dedicated website accessible here. Additional motion picture records related to the United States Census can be found in our online catalog and blog posts about special media records and the U.S. Census can be found here. Full copies of each film included here can be viewed in our online catalog (29.80 and 29.81) and on our YouTube channel (29.80 and 29.81). The final clip below is a public service announcement from Records of the Bureau of the Census, titled 1950 Census.