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U.S. census through the decades

The census, that big count of America’s whole population that happens every 10 years, is approaching.

It is required by the Constitution and was first held in 1790. The enumeration helped distinguish the new country from old nations. Many emperors and rulers have sent emissaries door to door to learn about their people — consider the story of Christmas and what brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. But the American census was used to give the people power by determining voting representation.

Read our editorial on the high stakes of this census and scroll through photos of past census activities in New York and on Long Island below.

A copy of the first census conducted by the new United States of America in 1790 is seen at Sotheby's auction house April 8, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Group photo of class of men and women being instructed on procedures for the upcoming national census. Nearest to the camera in lower right is Frank Stienfeldt of Centerport, chairman for Suffolk; seated next to him is Arthur DeMott of Rockville Centre, chairman for Nassau, on Jan. 14, 1960.

Candidates for census takers are given test for the job at the Hempstead Armory on March 9, 1960. Overall the room was filled with more than 500 people from all over Nassau County.


Jerome J. Garber, of NYC, special census supervisor, points on town map as Mrs. Thomas Baron, of Sag Harbor, a special census secretary, checks out a record in one of the census books at Southampton Town Hall on May 11, 1966.

Queens Borough President Donald Manes, left, with Michael Reich, district manager Northeast Queens office for the U.S. census, as he filled out his 1980 census form at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, on March 31, 1980.

At New York’s City Hall, Mayor Edward Koch holds up a sign that will start a new program to locate residents missed in census on Aug. 21,1980.

United States Bureau of the Census field representatives Jeanette Gonzalez, left, and Allan Lyles, right, with the laptop computer that they use to take surveys. Photo taken at home of Gonzalez in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on Jan. 31, 1994.

In this March 15, 2010, file photo, copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. The 2020 U.S. Census will add a question about citizenship status, a move that brought swift condemnation from Democrats who said it would intimidate immigrants and discourage them from participating.