The first censuses in 1790 and 1800 were "simple" counts of population that fulfilled the U.S. Constitution's requirement. While later enumerations met this constitutional mandate, they also gathered greater detail about the nation's inhabitants. As a result, the census has grown from a "head count" to a tool enabling us to better understand the nation's inhabitants, their pursuits and activities, and needs.
Expansion of the census began in 1810, when enumerators also asked questions related to the industrial pursuits of the nation's inhabitants. In 1850, the census began collecting "social statistics" (information about taxes, education, crime, and value of estate, etc.) and mortality data. Subsequent censuses gathered more detailed data on race and ancestry, health, housing, and transportation.
An examination of the questions asked during each census illustrates a change in our understanding of race, the impact of immigration, growth of the Hispanic population, and computer usage. As a result of the census's evolution, the constitutionally mandated census has grown to provide volumes of data about the U.S. population and its housing. Coupled with data from the separately conducted economic census and demographic and economic surveys, the Census Bureau provides governments, scholars, and planners with the data they need to build schools, plan highways, and distribute the billions of dollars in federal spending that sustains a growing population.
The "Instructions to Enumerators" provided here include the congressional acts U.S. marshalls reviewed during the early census, specially-published instructions for door-to-door census, and lastly, guides used for the limited number of personal interviews conducted during nonresponse follow-up operations.