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1940 Census Data Reveals Kick-Ass Chrono-Neighbors

April 3, 2012

The 1940 US Census data just came online! Needless to say it is rather fascinating. Here’s a sample sheet for the west side of Mission St between 29th and Valencia:

Here’s a crop showing household residents, ages, and the value of the house, or rent paid:

Employment information, including yearly salary:

I’m sure that other neighborhoods will be different, but this was a working-class area, and highest salary I saw was $2500 per year for the likes of cops, bakers, welders, firemen. Adjusted for inflation, this is about $40K per year. (The CPI for 1940 is about 16.)

Houses ran about $4000-$5000 for a 2-bedroom, 1-bath, and about $6000 for 3-bedroom, 2-bath. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $65-$100K which is pretty insane. Not sure on apartments, but you can figure out the percentage of salary that went into housing by looking at the rent. $25 to $35 seems typical, or about $400 to $560 in today’s dollars.

Here’s a map showing who lived in three of buildings along the 3200 block of Mission St, along with some of the census data.

(I cheated a bit and used the 1915 Sanborn map rather than the 1950 map –by 1940 few things had changed.)

Picking a name at random, Charles and Anna Lynch lived with their two girls (aged 3 and 1) at 3212 Mission, above what is now Mi Lindo Peru. They paid $27.50 each month for rent. Charles was a fireman and made $2500 a year, or $208 a month, so his rent was just 13% of his salary. I’m guessing that their landlady Philmena lived below them, along with Ed the motorman who worked for the Market St. Railroad.

Ironic footnote: 3212 Mission was the site of that fire last year.

Their next-door neighbors in 3214 were the Bamfords, originally from LA. He was a shoemaker who made $60 a month but paid $30 a month in rent.

Up the street, William Catalano, 25, his 23-year old wife Beatrice and their 5 year old son William Jr. lived in an apartment block that was torn down few decades later to make way for the Bank of America parking lot. William was a musician, working on a “music project”, pulling in $985 a year, or $82 a month, and paid $15 a month in rent.

William was a jazz drummer and a pretty kick-ass dad. How do I know that? Well, it turns out that a few years later, his son, “Billy” Catalano, picked up the trumpet in school and ended up a noted musician himself. He passed away in 2005, and his obituary was in the Chronicle.

“William “Billy” Catalano, Jr., a lyrical and passionate jazz trumpet player and teacher who performed in scores of San Francisco nightclubs and theatres and instructed thousands of young musicians in a career that spanned six decades, has died.”

Billy’s school band teacher tried to get him to play the trombone, and said that he could only play the trumpet if he supplied his own. So what did his dad do?

The boy’s father, jazz drummer Bill Catalano, spent that night playing poker and won a silver trumpet on a turn of a card, which Billy proudly brought to school the next day.”

So, yeah, that was pretty cool random Google search.

None of these files are scanned or indexed yet, but you can most easily find your “Enumeration District” by searching at the site Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub have set up. Once you get the ED narrowed down, you can download the original census forms for that area, which will only be two or three blocks of homes, at least in San Francisco. Pro-tip: save yourself some time and just download the entire set of scanned images for your ED — the image browser is pretty hard to use.

The Catalano family is just one story. Time to start thinking about how to get the names and data onto a map to figure out some more.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Trixie SF permalink
    April 3, 2012 4:47 pm

    What about years of schooling? I was fascinated to see that the 40-yr olds in my building back then only had 5-7 yrs of school; the 20-somethings had all graduated high school.

    • April 4, 2012 12:21 am

      Yeah, I was really surprised at how few years of schooling people had. And no one went to university on that block other than Elsa the substitute teacher.

  2. April 3, 2012 4:53 pm

    It makes me wonder about what people will think of my census replies 70 years from now!

  3. April 3, 2012 5:52 pm


  4. robert permalink
    April 4, 2012 4:59 am

    – thanks for pointing out this data … much appreciated … now to go investigate my hood 70 years ago !

    btw – love the blog – great reading .. :)

  5. April 6, 2012 1:28 pm

    The census taker for that block sure had tidier handwriting than the one for mine. (Church/24th/Chattanooga/23rd). The distribution of professions, wages, and rent is pretty similar to what you found. And now I know the Dish family lived in the apartment I now live in. Fun stuff!

  6. April 6, 2012 11:39 pm

    I got the census data on my Grandfathers house in LA 1920, found out where my great grand father came from and the name of the young girl who cared for my mother as a child. Amazing history in those files…

  7. returnoftheyeti permalink
    April 7, 2012 12:52 pm

    Thank you for this post. I am looking at my house here in SF, but what is real interesting for me is comparing the results to the very rural community that I grew up in, Fulton, MI, outside of Kalamazoo county. Apparently the roads back then did not even have names, so finding an actual house is pretty hard. The Parents had more kids, less income, the kids lived at home for a much longer time. Much like the current version of rural vs. city.

  8. April 10, 2012 10:52 am

    This is my block! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s pretty kewl to know that the Catalano family lived across the street from me!


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