Family Tree Friday: Census Bureau exhibit at the 1926 U.S. Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Part I

Today’s post comes from guest blogger Doug Remley, who is a student research room technician in Research Services (RD-DC) at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.  Doug offers a history lesson on how the Census Bureau celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Future posts will include some of the unique findings from the census schedules that were a part of the 1926 exhibit.  Some of these findings are stories of general interest, while others may be helpful to genealogists researching their families today.

In 1926, the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a world’s fair in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not only was the Sesquicentennial Exhibition a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our country; it was also a celebration of the great changes that had occurred in the world since the Centennial Celebration that had been held in Philadelphia in 1876.

Like other world’s fairs, the planners of the exhibition invited industrialists, manufacturers, and inventors, as well as governments from all over the world to come to Philadelphia and set up exhibits displaying recent changes in technology in America and around the world. A joint resolution in the U.S. Congress provided the funding for the participation of the U.S. Government departments and agencies. This resolution authorized government agencies to prepare for the Exhibition Association “such exhibits as it might be in the interest of the United States Government to display.” Congress appropriated $1,186,500 for the selection, purchase, preparation, transportation, arrangement, safekeeping, exhibition, and return of Government exhibits.

Almost every government department participated. Each department was allotted an exhibit space and each agency under that department was given a portion of that space. Government agencies worked hard to create informative as well as visually appealing exhibits in the hopes of winning one of the coveted medals awarded for exceptional displays at the exhibition.

The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the Commerce Department, was an old pro when it came to creating exhibits at world’s fairs. In fact, as part of their sesquicentennial exhibit, the Census Bureau displayed a medal that had been awarded in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915.

Using the decennial census, the Census Bureau exhibit showed the public the changes in the makeup of the United States over the last 150 years. The exhibit displayed numerous charts, maps, and graphs that showed everything from the centers of population and the expansion of large U.S. cities to a chart contrasting the differences in death rates from typhoid fever and automobile accidents.

At the center of the display was a counter that showed the estimated population of the U.S. at that moment. The number went up by one person every 20 seconds. At the time the photograph was taken in the second half of 1926, the population of the U.S. was estimated to be 117,589,970.

Six glass cases filled with examples of census books and pages covered each decennial census from 1790 to 1920. The Census Bureau chose to display pages showing the enumeration of famous people, especially U.S. Presidents and famous statesmen as well as interesting notations found by Census Bureau employees. In the cases of many famous people, notations were even made in the margins by the enumerator to accentuate that there was someone famous located on that page.

In honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Census Bureau exhibit prominently displayed schedules from the first census taken in 1790 that enumerated signers John Hancock (Boston), Samuel Adams (Boston), Thomas Jefferson (Philadelphia), Edmund Randolph (Philadelphia), and Edmund Rutledge (Charleston).

In the 1800 census in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams Esq. is enumerated at the top of the first page with “President of the United States” in large lettering below it. While this might seem normal, the 1800 census did not ask about a person’s occupation. Since the 1790 census for Virginia was destroyed by fire in the War of 1812, this 1800 census is the first surviving census enumerating a sitting president.

Also on display at the exhibit were census schedules showing three of the most famous senators of the mid-1800s John C. Calhoun (1840 South Carolina), Daniel Webster (1850 Massachusetts), and Henry Clay (1850 Kentucky), as well as presidents Abraham Lincoln (1860), Theodore Roosevelt (1870), and Rutherford B. Hayes (1880).

One of the most interesting schedules was the 1860 enumeration of the White House. James Buchanan is enumerated at the beginning of the listing of the “President’s House.” On the following five pages, the entire foreign delegations of seven different countries are listed. This was the only time that foreign ministers and their delegations were listed as a part of the White House when it was enumerated.

The Census Bureau exhibit was a huge success at the Sesquicentennial Exhibition. When the awards were tabulated from official papers received from the Executive Jury of Awards, the Census Bureau was awarded with a gold medal based on its exhibit. The Census Bureau also helped the Department of Commerce as a whole bring home the grand prize.

4 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: Census Bureau exhibit at the 1926 U.S. Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Part I

  1. Very interesting! I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts on the unique findings from the census schedules.

  2. I need help locating a relative birth certificate. Do you know of a site that I can view old records of births in the Penn,NJ area. Thanks

    1. Hi Esther,

      Birth certificates and other vital records are actually not federal records, so they are not in the holdings of the National Archives. You will need to contact the appropriate state or county in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in order to obtain these records. has put together a comprehensive listing of state vital records departments to help with your search.

      Best of luck with your research,

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