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Finding Facts with the U.S. Census Bureau

The first United States Census was undertaken in 1790, in order to carry out Article I, Section II of the Constitution. That section calls for an enumeration of persons for the purposes of correctly apportioning both taxes and representatives. In 1850, the census began to include the names of all free persons in a household, and their occupations in 1860. By 1890, the amount of data gathered in the decennial census took another ten years to tabulate, leading to census bureau Herman Hollerith's invention of the Hollerith tabulation system of punch cards. This system would lead to the formation of the Tabulating Machine Company, that would later become IBM. Technology used by the Census Bureau has improved over each decade, and now you can find specific, up to date data about a state or the nation with only a few clicks.

One resource of note is the Bureau's Facts for Features, which tabulates data of interest for Americans. For example, a recent fact sheet was released to coincide with the beginning of hurricane season. One of the surprising facts was that the coastal portion of states from North Carolina to Texas, the area most vulnerable to Atlantic hurricanes, is home to 37.3 million Americans, 12% of the U.S. population. In 1960, the same area was home to only 8% of the population. A festive Fourth of July fact sheet lets us know that most of the potatoes in our potato salads originate in Idaho, the beef for your burger likely came from Texas, and your hotdog is a product of Iowa.

You can also use Census Bureau resources to find statistics relevant to your own research or interests. One great tool is the County Business and Demographics Interactive Map. You can use either the interactive map or interactive text feature to find statistics of interest about one state, and compare them to another. Or, you can look at specific industries and economic indicators to find out what areas are leading the nation. Harris County has the fourth largest number of full-service restaurants of all U.S. counties, and the second largest number of gas stations. But, despite Texas' notoriety for"big hair," the state comes in 6th for number of beauty shops and barbers. Beyond this, the census bureau site provides up to date economic indicators by industry, a population finder based on the 2010 census, and the American Fact Finder, which allows you to explore all the data from the most recent census. Did you know that the median age of Texans was 33.6 in 2010? Try exploring all the census bureau tools to enhance your research and learn about America!

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