Census of 1890

Census statistics for the year 2000 offered an updated view of the population of Nebraska and its economic and social characteristics. Nebraska has been included in all federal censuses from 1860 to the present. In addition, territorial censuses were conducted in 1854, 1855, 1856, and 1857. Various state censuses were also taken in Nebraska, the most important being the 1885 agricultural census.

The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) of November 19, 1888, discussed the political and commercial value of the upcoming census of 1890: “The census of 1890, if honestly taken,” said the Journal, “will do very much toward equalizing the representation in congress, by giving the western states that have grown so rapidly in the last eight years an equal showing with the southern states which have not increased their population, but in some cases show a decrease. The great west has received the largest share of the immigration which has poured into this country since the last census was taken, and as a consequence fully one-half of the people of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado and other western states have not been represented either in congress or in the electoral college.

“It will be no news to those who have watched previous enumerations closely that a strong pressure to inflate the returns of population is brought to bear upon local enumerators in certain sections of the country. This influence undoubtedly had a great effect in 1880, and from the excess of population the east was the chief beneficiary, consequently the west suffered. Now a strict supervision of the work will do away with much of this inflation, and it is vastly important that the census returns shall honestly represent the actual population. . . .

“But political reasons are not the only ones for accuracy and thoroughness in the work of the next census. . . . It is a fact that the last census gave some of the wildest and most absurd statements and failed entirely to give information in regard to a great number of growing industries. To all industries it is at this time peculiarly essential to have a definite and trustworthy record of their progress and annual production.”

Unfortunately, most of the 1890 federal census records were destroyed by a fire in Washington in 1921. Of the decennial population census schedules, perhaps none were more critical to studies of immigration, industrialization, westward migration, and characteristics of the general population than the census of 1890. United States residents completed millions of detailed questionnaires, yet only a fragment of the general population schedules and an incomplete set of special schedules enumerating Union veterans and widows are available today.


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