This wordmap includes the names of cities that have ever been listed as one of the 20 most populous cities in the country, since 1790. The size of each city name reflects the number of times that place has been ranked in the top 20. Click on a city to see its rank in the top 20 from 1790 to 2010.
The number and size of cities increased dramatically between 1790 and 1890 as the country’s population grew and became increasingly urban. By 1890, people living in cities of 100,000 or more made up a larger proportion of all urban dwellers. This reflected a shift from a rural, agrarian society to one focused on industrial production, especially in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes.
The Northeast and South each held about half of the U.S. population in 1790. As the Midwest opened to settlement, it gained an increasingly large share of the population due to migration from the Northeast and South, as well as international migration. By 1890, the Midwest held its largest share of the population. The 20th century saw continued declines in the shares of the population living in the Northeast and Midwest alongside gains in the South and West.