The World of 1940

Who were the Mainers of 1940? Where did they live? What did they do for work? What kind of money did they make? What were their backgrounds? What did their families look like?

As of Monday, there’s a whole new way to find out. That’s the day the National Archives, in partnership with, released the 1940 census online, a hotly anticipated date by genealogists everywhere. (Read a March MHS blog post anticipating the event.)

With tens of thousands of images of census maps and actual data sheets, you can learn more about what your mid-20th-century family members did for work and the salary they earned, the value of the house they lived in, and who lived in the household.

And lots and lots of people tried to do just that on Monday–about 22.5 million in the first three hours alone. That caused a few problems, but as of today, everything is working the way it should, and you can search, download, and print individual images of maps and census pages with relative ease.

If you’d like some context for that data, we suggest going on Maine Memory Network. One section of Maine History Online, “The Countryside at Midcentury,” covers the years 1920-1945. But you might also consult the time period that follows, “1946-1970: A Different Place” to compare how Mainers like those in your family lived their lives after the dramatic changes that took place post-WWII. A number of Maine History Online’s thematic sections also cover the people, events, and issues of the mid-20th-century.

Wedding party, Belfast, 1940

Or, if you really just want to scroll through individual 1940 items, you can search on that date and come up with more than 570 photographs, documents, letters, objects, and the like that give you a flavor of the time. You’ll also get a return of 52 exhibits that have something in them related to that year.

Many of wish we could jump into a time machine to travel back to 1940 and go door-to-door with those census takers. Since that’s still firmly in the realm of science fiction, all this great information is the next best thing to being there.

About mainechp

Maine Community Heritage Project at Maine Historical Society
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