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Census 1960: The Wave of the Future

Film Optical Sensing Devise for Input to Computers (FOSDIC)

Computers from 1960 may seem dated now, but back then this monstrous computer (called a Film Optical Sensing Devise for Input to Computers (FOSDIC)) was revolutionary, and the perfect thing to crunch numbers. 1960 was the first census to be sent via US Postal Service; previous censuses had been conducted by enumerators who went door to door and talked to each household. The list of questions was sent out, households voluntarily filled out the questionnaires and sent them back, and then enumerators put the responses into a computer-readable magnetic tape for input into the FOSDIC.

My, how things have changed. Not only is the Census all digital these days, the Census Bureau also puts out an enormous amount of data to the public including apportionment (changes to House seats), new and changed boundaries of voting districts, and key geographic concepts for each state. The Census has a wonderful map depicting the mean Center of Population for the United States: 1790 to 2010, showing the continuing American movement from northeast to the south and west. (screenshot below, click to go to Census site and see the map live)

Click to see live animation on Census website

The Census has gone one step further and calculated current centers of population by state, county, census tract, and block group, and made the data available for download. I created the interactive map of state mean population centers in Carto, below. Look how Reno drags Nevada's center north, and how Texas' is somewhere in the middle of the mass of population that is Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. (This data isn't available for 1960... yet!)

Click to go to full map in Carto

There is an enormous amount of data available and so little time to make sense of it all, and what it means for Americans and our lives in the US. I can promise one thing that I don't need a data visualization to prove: computers have gotten much, much smaller.

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