Historical Statistics of the United States, 1789-1945

By United States. Bureau Of The Census | Go to book overview

Chapter A. Wealth and Income (Series A 1-207)

National Wealth: Series A 1-100

EARLY ESTIMATES OF NATIONAL WEALTH (A 1-2)

A 1. Total valuation of all the real and personal property in the United States, 1774-1807. Source: For 1774-1805, see Blodget, Samuel Jr. , Economica:A Statistical Manual for the United States of America, 1806 edition, p. 68; for 1806, 1807, see article signed "S. B." and entitled "Thoughts on a Plan of Economy (Suited to the Census of 1808) for the United States of America" in Colvin's Weekly Register, vol. I ( Washington City, 1808), p. 235. Note: The Library of Congress file of Colvin's Weekly Register is incomplete. However, the copy of Blodget's Economica found in the Department of Commerce library ( Washington, D. C.) includes, within the same binding, a copy of the article cited above. For a detailed statement for 1805, see Economica, p. 196, and table 1, below.

Interest in the national wealth of the United States arose long before interest in national income, just as modern balance-sheet concepts developed earlier than the concepts of the income account. The first serious attempt to estimate the wealth of this country appears to have been made by Samuel Blodget, Jr., the compiler of an early collection of statistics of the United States. His Economica;A Statistical Manual for the United States of America ( 1806 edition) includes a detailed statement of the estimated value of all the real and personal property in the United States for the year 1805 and also a series of national totals (series A 1), unsupported by details, extending back to 1774.

No statement is made by Blodget as to the source material underlying either of these two tabulations. It seems likely that the totals given for 1774-1804 were derived in much the same way as the 1805 figure, since the details of the latter are presented as being related to the former, and since most of the material which would be needed for estimating prior-year values on the same plan as for 1805 is actually included in the table which shows the prior-year wealth totals. The 1805 classification given by Blodget ( Economica, 1806 edition, p. 196) is shown below in table 1. According to Blodget, "Slaves are rated too high till they are better managed; everything else is below the mark."

TABLE 1.—AN ESTIMATE OF ALL THE REAL AND PERSONAL
PROPERTY IN THE UNITED STATES (EXCLUSIVE OF LOUISI-
ANA TERRITORY): 1805
item Millions of
dollars
Total valuation for 1805 2,505.5
1 million of habitations and apparel for 6 millions of persons, with
  shops, barns, implements, tools, furniture, etc., each 360 dollars
360
39 million acres of lands averaged at 6 dollars 234
150 million acres adjoining and near the cultivated lands averaged at
  3½ dollars
525
451 million acres, the residue of all the lands in the United States aver-
  aged at 2 dollars
902
Carriages and all livestock @ 70 dollars each family 70
Turnpike, canal, and toll bridge stock 15
10,000 flour, grist, saw, iron, and other mills, value not less than 400
  dollars each
4
1 million slaves, average value 200 dollars 200
Country produce on hand for export, manufacturing, etc 26
Stock in trade: 1,000,000 tons shipping; European, India merchan-
  dise, etc.; specie; bank stock, insurance stock, and all incorpor-
  ated funds
150
Public buildings, churches, Wash. city lots, arsenals, naval and mili-
  tary stores, arms, ammunition, frigates, dock yards, timber, etc
19.5

The second group of wealth statistics to be considered begins with the year 1813, when the Congress laid a direct tax on property. The valuations required for the administration of this tax were not tabulated, but were used in part as the base for a subsequent tax levied in 1815, when the valuations were tabulated. The total so derived for the value of "houses, lands, and slaves" was 1,902 million dollars (the Louisiana Territory was excluded as its returns were incomplete), according to Timothy Pitkin's A Statistical View of the Commerce of the United States ( 1835 edition), p. 313 Of this total, Pitkin estimates the value of slaves included at roughly 300 million dollars.

Since under-assessment has been the rule rather than the exception in property tax administration, the total given by Pitkin is probably an underestimate. It is, moreover, too low to be consistent with Blodget's figure. But it is important partly because it illustrates the crude beginning of the method later developed by the Census, and partly because it was used by another nineteenth- century statistican (Burchard, see series A 2) as the starting point for a series of annual interpolations extending from 1825 to 1880.

A 2. Estimated national wealth, 1825-1880. S ource: Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1881, p. 71.

Horatio C. Burchard included in his Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1881, a historical table of price fluctuations over this 56-year period, and added series of annual estimates of the Nation's wealth and population for comparative purposes. These wealth estimates (series A 2), purport to be based for 1825-1850 on Pitkin's figure for 1815 and the Census total for 1850. The derivation of the 1851-1880 estimates is not explained, but was apparently the result of interpolation between the decennial census totals.1

Burchard's estimates include taxable property only, and probenuably exclude a good share of that in 1849 and prior years. His figures for 1850-1879 share the characteristics of the census totals of the period, described below.


MORE RECENT ESTIMATES OF NATIONAL WEALTH (A 3 100)

A 3-99. General note. During the period 1850-1922, that is, from the Seventh Decennial Census to the date of estimates included in the Federal Trade Commission report 2 on national wealth and income, there was a rapid development, both in technique and in basic data for statistics of wealth. The Bureau of the Census prepared estimates of national wealth for selected years, from 1850 to 1922 (see table 2 and series A 42-74). The Federal Trade Commission estimates for 1922, however, were considerably broader in scope than the Census estimates, covering items not included in the Census total. In consequence, where the Census total for 1922 was 321 million dollars, the Commission estimate was 353 million dollars. 2 These figures are not presented in detail here since this investigation was not repeated.

After 1922 the Bureau of the Census discontinued making estimates of wealth, but the series were ultimately carried forward to 1937 by the National Industrial Conference Board in the same general form (see series A 75-99). Also, a revision and extension of some of the census estimates was made by Simon Kuznets (see series A 3-41).

____________________
1
A footnote in the 1880 Census Report on Valuation . . . reads as follows: "Since the above [statement of Census estimate as being $43,642,000,0001 was written I have discovered in the report of the Director of the Mint for 1881 (Table XXVII), an estimate of $43,300,000,000 as the true valuation. The slight difference between these two estimates, amounting to only 8/10 of 1 per cent., is remarkable, when it is considered that they were made by very different methods; the estimate above quoted [Burchard's] having been deduced from the estimates at earlier censuses, by using the rates of increase." See Gannet, Henry, "The True Valuation of Real and Personal Property in the United States" comprising the introduction to Part I: Valuation and Taxation, in Report on Valuation, Tavation, and Public Indebtedness in the United States as Returned at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880), U. S. Department of the Interior, Census Office, Washington, D. C., 1884, footnote p. 11.
2
Federal Trade Commission, National Wealth and Income, 69th Cong., 1st sess Senate Document No. 126, Washington, D. C., 1926, p. 28.

-1-

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