Who You Callin’ Dummy, Dummy?

First things first: fear of ventriloquist dummies is a real thing. There’s even an official name for this phobia: Automatonophobia. If you are in my age group (Eisenhower was president during your pre-school years), an unease around ventriloquist dummies likely stems from two extremely creepy Twilight Zone episodes about these (nearly) living dolls.

Danny Kaye with dummy in still photo from “Knock on Wood” (LOC.gov photo)
Danny Kaye with dummy in still from “Knock on Wood” (LOC.gov photo)

Now, it probably never occurred to you to wonder just how many professional ventriloquists there were in this country at any given time. Regardless, there is a way to answer this unasked question by using the federal population census.

This search works with most recent federal censuses:

SEARCH—OCCUPATION: ventriloquist (Exact)

1880—9 results
1900—14 results
1910—17 results
1920—10 results
1940—14 results

You’ll need to do the following search in the 1930 census, since it doesn’t allow for an Occupation search:

SEARCH—KEYWORD: ventriloquist (Exact) 9 results

How can researchers access the federal population census? You may use Heritage Quest Online from home with a valid SLPL library card and PIN, or at Central Library or any of our branches.

You may use Ancestry Library Edition at Central Library or any of our branches.

Here’s a list of SLPL reference databases.

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