U.S. Demographic Trends, 1860-1920

In the 120 years between 1800 and 1920, the U.S. population mushroomed from a little over 5 million to more than 100 million—a growth rate of 10,000% (top left). In addition, the population gradually became more urbanized (top right). In 1800, 94% of all Americans lived in rural areas. By 1920, when 51.2% resided in cities and 48.8% in rural areas, the balance had finally shifted (we’re now 81% urban). A great deal of this growth occurred in the burgeoning cities of the Northeast and upper Midwest (bottom left). In 60 years, the population of Chicago, for instance, skyrocketed from a little over 100,000 to 2.7 million, and by 1920, there were nearly 6 million people in New York City. The growth of major cities was fueled by the arrival of immigrants in unprecedented numbers—an average of more than 300,000 per year between 1845 and 1900 and of more than half a million per year between 1901 and 1914 (bottom right).

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