Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Team 24 News, U.S. Census Detroit Regional Office
Read any good books lately? These winter months are the perfect time to cuddle up with a book next to a warm roaring fireplace fire and a cup of hot chocolate--after you complete your Census assignment, of course. Back in the 1910s there was a series of books published that were designed to acquaint the reader with public-service government jobs. Authored by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, they all began with the words “The Boy With the” and then a particular government agency. Hence, “The Boy With the: U.S. Survey; U.S. Foresters, U.S. Census; U.S. Fisheries; U.S. Indians; U.S. Explorers; U.S. Life-Savers; U.S. Mail; U.S. Weather Men; and U.S. Naturalists.
“The Boy With the U.S. Census” was published in Boston in November, 1911, by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Company. The book is hardcover, 354 pages long, and contains 33 glossy illustrations. There are ten chapters. The blue cover depicts big-city skyscrapers in the distance. In the center is an actual glued-on photograph showing a young man wearing a derby hat in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., holding a U.S. Census ledger in his hands. No, he is not lost. He is just starting out on his new adventure as a U.S. Census enumerator.
Written in novel form, the story revolves around a young neophyte Census taker named Hamilton who encounters various ethnic groups, geographic challenges and situations in different sections of the U.S. in the course of his many assignments. Relatedly, this novel highlights some of the economic and social conditions which existed in 1911, and the dangers a Census taker might stumble upon in the course of a day’s work.
The reader is educated along the way as to how the U.S. Census worked during those times, including how results were tabulated. There are several photographs of Census-tabulating machinery, including a Census tabulation card, minus any computer!
Many of the illustrations were supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau or other government agencies, and show a variety of actual conditions a Census taker might encounter during the 1910s. One photograph shows a group of child laborers at a coal mine. Another photo shows a large German immigrant family entering the U.S. at Ellis Island, during this time in American history when a million “aliens” a year entered this facility on their way to a new life and U.S. citizenship. Others photographs illustrate ethnic neighborhoods in New York City, while another portrays living conditions in the South.
One favorite photograph of this writer is found in the chapter entitled “The Frozen North,” dealing with enumeration in the Alaska Territory (Note: Alaska didn’t become a state until 1959). An illustration on page 274 entitled “The Census in the Aleutian Islands” bears the caption, “Enumerator on a schooner skirting the icy shores of the glacier-fed waters of the Behring Sea.” This is an actual photograph supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau. I wonder what the mileage rate was back then for enumerating from a schooner?
The storyline also includes the geographic aspects of Census work, where on page 292 we read: “The sidelights that Hamilton had received on the Alaskan enumeration had given him a greater zest for census work than ever, and he devoted not a little of his spare time to the study of conditions in the far North. Indeed, the lad became so enthusiastic about it that every evening, when he reached home, he worked out the route of the enumerator whose schedules he had edited during that day’s work. He had secured the big geological reconnaissance map of Alaska for the purpose.”
“The Boy With the U.S. Census” gives the reader a better understanding of the rich heritage we have as Census field representatives. Those that worked before us laid the foundations for the work we do today. Our predecessors had to deal with their own challenges in the course of a day’s work, which we can appreciate today as we do our Census surveys with our own scenarios.
Copies of “The Boy With the U.S. Census” can be occasionally found in antique book stores, although this writer easily found several copies available on the www.abebooks.com website where he purchased his. Just type in the title or author of the book in the space provided on the homepage and follow the directions. You should be able to access a list of several available copies in various conditions and prices to choose from. The book is now also available in the same listing in newly “printed on demand” format, but I like the original antique edition, of course.
Book Cover: The Boy With the U.S. Census
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic