An estimated 87 percent of Americans today can connect with at least one relative in the 1940 census . Because of privacy laws that protect identifying information for 72 years, the 1940 Census is the most recent census in which records can be researched in detail.
The sixteenth United States Census officially began on April 1, 1940 and took just over a month to complete. The total population recorded was 132,164,569. The official cutoff for enumeration was 12:01 a.m. on April 1. Therefore, births that occurred after this date were not included.
1940 Census Facts
1940 Census Number: 132,164,569
1940 Census Day: April 1, 1940
1940 Census duration: 1 month
1940 Census States: 48 States
1940 Census Territories: Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
The 1940 census contained some questions that were not asked of every person counted. These extra questions were only asked of about one of every twenty people to provide a data sample.
These questions included:
birthplace of mother and father,
veteran status (including widow or minor child of a veteran),
Social Security details,
occupation, industry, and class of worker,
marriage information for women (married more than once, age at first marriage, number of children).
The 1940 census categorized government workers as either “private or non-emergency government” employees or those who performed “public emergency work.”
Public emergency work included employees of the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the National Youth Administration.
Historical Considerations of the 1940 Census
The 1940 census recorded the urbanization of America with great detail. One question asked where the person lived 5 years prior and whether or not it was on a farm. Workers were categorized by occupation, industry, and class.
Perhaps one of the most revealing indications of urbanization was the recording of persons who lived in “hotels, tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses (flophouses).”
Women were given more attention in the 1940 census. The enumerators asked women if they had been married more than one time, their age at their first marriage, and how many times they had given birth.
The top five foreign countries listed as a birthplace were Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, and England.
New York was the most commonly listed birth state.
The average household size enumerated in the 1940 census was 3.7 people.
Two women tied for the oldest person in the census: both Mary Dilworth of Oxford, Mississippi, and Cándido Vega Y Torres of Guayama, Puerto Rico, listed their ages as 119.
Mary and John were the most common given names appearing in the 1940 census.
The top five surnames in the 1940 census were Smith, Johnson, Brown, Williams, and Jones.
More than 850,000 people reported living in hotels or similar housing.
Historical events surrounding the 1940 US Census
December 7, 1941 - Japanese warplanes attack Pearl Harbor, marking the entrance of the United States into World War II.
February 19, 1942 - President Roosevelt issues an executive order for the interment of all American residents with Japanese ancestry.
March 5, 1946 - Winston Churchill delivers his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
10 Largest Urban Places in 1940
New York City, NY
Los Angeles, CA
St. Louis, MO
States Covered in the 1940 Census
1940 Census Map
The 1940 census covered the 48 states as well as Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.