By the numbers

America's founders thought a decennial census was so important that they mandated it in the second section of the first article of the Constitution. Since 1790, the task of tabulating census returns has driven developments in data processing, including the introduction of Herman Hollerith's punch card in the 1890 census.

In 1950 the government applied Universal Automatic Computer 1, or Univac 1, to tabulate some census data. By 1960, the Census Bureau had switched to film optical sensing devices, or Fosdics, capable of reading marks on paper. The 1960 technology processed items at a rate of 3,000 per minute, a speed that increased to 70,000 per minute by the 1990 census.

For insights into the development of data processing and demographics in census work, go to


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