Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
By Frank Passic, FR, Calhoun County, Michigan
It is an important object which we all use in our work, for both professional and legal identification reasons: It’s our U.S. Census identification badge. This piece of hard plastic, contained in a soft see-through plastic holder, and hung around the neck with a beaded metallic “necklace,” has evolved over time. Years ago, a badge was a shiny, specially-shaped metallic emblem signifying authority, such as the county sheriff would wear, or the local fireman. Did you know that the U.S. Census Bureau once had an official metal badge which its enumerators wore while on the job?
The 13th Decennial Census of the United States was conducted in 1910, and was the first decennial conducted by the Bureau as a permanent government agency (established in 1902). A special badge was issued to aid enumerators in their work. “Census Day” was April 15, 1910. Of course, the day April 15 has now been usurped by another U.S. Government agency which we won’t name here, but back then it was exclusively reserved for the U.S. Census Bureau. April 15 was “ours.”
Enumerators were supplied with official credentials which they carried with them. This was called a “commission,” and ordinarily was used by the enumerators to identify themselves when making their rounds block-by-block. They were also supplied with their very own U.S. Census badge. Recently, a couple of authentic 1910 U.S. Census badges appeared on the collector’s market, and were quickly snapped up by two Detroit RO employees for a modest price.
The badge is made of pewter, giving it a shiny silverish color. It measures 44 mm. long (about an inch and three-quarters) and 30 mm. wide. It is shaped in the form of a shield, with an American eagle perched on top. The obverse text on top states “UNITED STATES” within an arch, surrounded by 15 stars on the top and sides, and 3 stars below. In the center in large letters is the word “CENSUS” within a rectangular box, and a rising sun design on top. Below within an oval border is the year, “1910.” The background consists of vertical lines, and a granular field.
The reverse of the badge is plain, with no manufacturers identification markings. If I were to guess where this badge was manufactured however, I would guess Texas, because its got a “Texas-sized” pin on the back. This large 1 mm. thick pin is spot-welded onto the frame for attachment to clothing. It should be noted that this badge was not intended for pinning to the polyester clothing (which hadn’t been invented yet) we now wear. Its thickness would easily rip through an FR’s blouse today. Back then, wool was the warm, fuzzy/itchy material which was commonly worn during the winter and spring, such as in early April when this Census was conducted. A thick pin such as this could easily be fastened to wool without any permanent damage.
How was the 1910 Census badge used by the enumerator? This is where it gets really interesting. Instructions for using the badge are found in the official 1910 U.S. Census Instructions to Enumerators book, of which this writer obtained a copy of from the U.S. National Archives. Paragraph 10 on page 12 states: “The official badge provided for you should be worn when on duty as an enumerator. It does not take the place of your commission, but is an additional evidence of your authority to ask the questions required by the Census Act.”
Today, we are required to wear our Census badge out in the open and show it prominently in our introductory remarks. In 1910, however, the instructions stated: “It should be attached to the vest under the coat and should be exhibited only when its exhibition may aid you in obtaining the information you seek.” Hmmmm.....Imagine being challenged by a resident and “whipping out” that hidden Census badge with a flap of your vest to show that you are who you say you are. Some FRs we know would probably be real good at that maneuver.
When we leave the employment of the U.S. Census Bureau, we are required to turn in our Census badge and other materials. That wasn’t the case in 1910, however. The instructions concluded: “It must not leave your possession, but may be retained as a souvenir after the completion of the enumeration.”
Wasn’t that nice of the Census Bureau? Thanks to that provision, two such badges have been obtained nearly 100 years later, and we are illustrating one such badge with this article. Do you have any old U.S. Census memorabilia? The Detroit RO has a display case filled with such material, and is always looking for additional items. Let us know what you’ve got.
Regarding the 1910 Instruction manual, it is filled with so much fascinating information, that we’ll refer to it again in future articles. In the meantime, let’s all be sure to wear and show our U.S. Census badge when we’re on duty, knowing that we are representing the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the United States government each time we walk up the steps to our next survey interview. After all, our photo is on that badge, too.
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic