Census Shows Picture of Past, Present

If you received your census form in the mail and sent it back, you did your job. But once the calendar turns from 2010 and into the future, answering those ten simple questions means a whole lot more, especially to historians.

The first US census was conducted in 1790 by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. At the beginning of each decade since, America has counted its citizens and from that drawn up Congressional Districts. Census data also determines allocation of federal funds for schools, hospitals and capital projects.

This year is no different, but judging by the extensive US Census Bureau ad campaign and forms being mailed out earlier this month, you probably already knew that.

But the Census information doesn’t go by the wayside once the people are counted. Past censuses reveal important information about Naperville and act as the baseline for historians.

Joseph Naper established Naperville in 1831, so the census of 1840 laid the ground work for historians like Naper Settlement research associate Bryan Ogg.

“You get a good grasp of who those first settlers were,” said Ogg. “What those names were, how large their family was and what kind of business they ran.”

From there, census data shows an influx of German immigrants into Naperville hoping to avoid military service in their home country.

And 1870 brought a famous brewer to Naperville, but not without some confusion about his name. The 1870 census shows an employee at the Stenger Brewery named “Adolph Toors,” but further study by historians show that employee was actually Adolph Coors–the founder of the famous Coors Brewing Company in Golden, CO.

Moving into the 20th Century, one can see Naperville transform from a small Illinois town to the fourth largest city in Illinois–a high-tech job hub with award-winning schools.

“Naperville had a city plan I think to concentrate on technology,” said Ogg. “So these are drawing very highly educated highly intelligent scientists into the area. Which then fed into the school systems because these people sat on school boards and were very much interested in new schools. And now families want to move here because the schools are good.” And not only are the past censuses good for current historians, this year’s census will provide a snapshot for tomorrow’s historians.

“What the census this year will do is put people on the map,” said Ogg, “And there will be the sort of historical record of what Naperville looked like that is now being recorded.”

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