Random Notes and Comments
- The urban hierarchy of the U.S. was dominated by the Northeast and Midwest until relatively recently. Between 1840 and 1900, 18 out of the top 20 metro areas were in the northeastern quadrant of the current USA, with just New Orleans, plus either Charleston or San Francisco, as the only cities in the South or West. As late as 1960, 15 out of 20 were still outside the “sunbelt”.
- For 80 years, from 1860 to 1930 inclusive, New Orleans was the only southern city in the top 20. Before that, Charleston, SC was the dominant city of the south, falling off the list in 1850. In 1940, Houston, Dallas, and Miami began their rises, and Atlanta didn’t crack the top 20 until 1970.
- Cincinnati was the first major city of the Midwest, making the top 20 list in 1820. By 1890 there were 9 midwestern cities in the top 20.
- San Francisco was the only western city in the top 20 for 50 years, from 1860 to 1900 inclusive. By 1910 Los Angeles cracked the the top 20, soon overtaking its northern rival. In 2010, the West had more cities on the list (6) than any other region.
- In 1850, 5 of the top 20 cities were in New York State: New York City (1), Albany (7), Buffalo (10), Rochester (16), and Syracuse (18). The nickname “Empire State” was very apt in the heyday of the Erie Canal.
- Four northeastern cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore) have been in the top 20 since the first census in 1790. Washington, DC didn’t really exist in 1790, but Alexandria, VA was on the list then, and DC itself afterwards, so one could argue that the Washington metro area also has been in the top 20 since independence.
- By 1930 Washington, DC was ranked #17, down from #5 in 1820. But the expansion of the federal government during the New Deal era and World War II propelled it up to #8 by 1970. It is the only metro area with a U-shaped curve, with a steady decline in rank followed by a steady rise.