Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/January 1892/Lessons from the Census III

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THE population of the United States June 1, 1890, as ascertained at the eleventh census, exclusive of white persons in the Indian Territory, Indians on reservations, and Alaska, was 63,622,250. This figure, considering the imperfections of the system under which it was ascertained, is quite satisfactory. It bears out the reasonable estimates made prior to the enumeration; it does not bear out unreasonable estimates. Barring inadequate counts in a few localities, which will occur under any system, I believe the statement of the population of the eleventh census to be fairly accurate for the whole country; it is certainly within a very small percentage of accuracy—a percentage which would largely disappear, but not wholly, under a census taken in accordance with the system outlined in the preceding articles of this series. Whether accurate or inaccurate, it is not worth while to quarrel with it; it must be accepted, and the political business of the country and all considerations carried on in accordance with it.

At the first census, taken in 1790, the population of the United States was 3,929,214. The following brief table shows the population at all the censuses, the positive increase during the intervening decades, and the percentage of increase:

Year Population. Positive
Percentage of
1790 3,929,214
1800 5,308,483 1,379,269 35.10
1810 7,239,881 1,931,398 36·38
1820 9,633,822 2,393,941 33·06
1830 12,866,020 3,232,198 32·51
1840 17,069,453 4,203,433 33·52
1850 23,191,876 6,122,423 35·83
1860 31,443,321 8,251,445 35·11
1870 38,558,371 7,115,050 22·65
1880 50,155,783 11,597,412 30·08
1890 62,622,250 12,466,467 24·86

The regularity of increase from 1800 to 1860 is striking, and then the influence of the war and of other elements is shown in the serious break in the regularity which occurs between 1860 and 1870, the percentage dropping from 35·11 in 1860 to 22·65 in 1870. With increased industrial and commercial activity the percentage rose again in 1880 to 30·08, but has now receded to 24·86. The influence of immigration upon this great increase in population, and the rate of natural increase since the decade from 1830 to 1840, are shown as follows:

Period. Natural. Immigration. Total percentage.
1830-'40 28·87 4·65 35·52
1840-'50 26·15 9·68 35·83
1850-'60 23·73 11·38 35·11
1860-'70 15·40 7·25 22·65
1870-'80 22·79 7·29 30·08
1880-'90 14·40 10·46 24·86

Until the full data of the census for 1890 are available, it is impossible to make any careful study of the reasons why the natural increase of population should vary so greatly. The highest natural increase during the period of immigration, as shown in the foregoing table, was between 1830 and 1840, it having been 28·87 per cent, the lowest natural increase being during the last decade, when it was 14·40. It seems almost incredible that such a variation could actually occur in the natural increase of population; but this matter must be left for future consideration. The population at the last three censuses has been distributed over the country, in accordance with geographical divisions, as follows:

population. increase from
1880 to 1890.
increase from
1870 to 1880.
increase from
1860 to 1870.
1890. 1880. 1870. Number. Per
Number. Per
Number. Per
The United States. 62,622,250 50,155,783 38,558,371 12,466,467 24·86 11,597,412 30·08 7,115,050 22·63
North Atlantic 17,401,545 14,507,407 12,298,730 2,894,138 19·95 2,208,677 17·96 1,704,462 16·09
South Atlantic 8,857,920 7,597,197 5,853,610 1,260,723 16·59 1,743,587 29·79 488,907 9·11
Northern Central 22,362,279 17,364,111 12,981,111 4,998,168 28·78 4,383,000 33·76 3,884,395 42·70
Southern Central 10,972,893 8,919,371 6,434,410 2,058,522 23·02 2,484,961 38·62 665,752 11·54
Western 3,027,613 1,767,697 990,510 1,259,916 71·27 777,187 78·46 371,534 60·02

By this table it will be seen that the largest increase during the last three decades has been in the Western division, consisting of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California. This division increased its population from 18(J0 to 1870 by 60·02 per cent; in the next decade, 78·46 per cent; and from 1880 to 1890, 71·27 per cent. It is natural that the greatest increase should occur in the division named.

Some of the Southern States did not show as great a percentage of increase as they would have shown had the census of 1870 been more thoroughly correct; but the imperfections of the census of 1870, which imperfections showed an enumeration probably much less than the real population, when compared with the more accurate census of 1880, resulted in an exaggerated increase between those years; consequently, with the census of 1890 compared with the exaggerated increase between 1870 and 1880, the relative percentage of growth is apparently less; yet, on the whole, the Southern divisions show very satisfactory percentages, as will be seen by consulting the last table.

The increase and decrease of population during the decade of years from 1880 to 1890 show casually that in a very large number of counties the population has really decreased, and an examination of the figures by counties gives proof that in four hundred and fifty-five there has been an apparent loss of inhabitants, arising from an actual decrease in population or from a reduction of territory, the latter being the case in fifty instances, consequent upon the formation of new counties. A real loss occurred in only about one hundred and thirty counties, such losses occurring mainly in the central parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, northern New Jersey and eastern Virginia, and some localities scattered through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Considerable loss has occurred in southern Michigan and Wisconsin, while eastern Iowa has largely experienced a diminution in population. The ebb and flow of mining operations have resulted in a good deal of change in the totals of mining counties, as, for instance, such counties in Colorado have very generally lost in population, and with the exception of two counties the number of inhabitants in the entire State of Nevada has decreased. The statement as to loss in mining regions is also true of California. The increase, however, in our great Western domains has been over one hundred per cent. The Great Plains have increased rapidly, and so have the agricultural areas of the Cordilleran plateau. Northern Michigan, western and southern Florida, Arkansas, southern Missouri, and central Texas, exhibit a growth that is really phenomenal, and the southern Appalachian region has increased its population largely. Southern New England, as well as the most of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, show the results of commerce and manufactures, where they are firmly established and constitute the leading occupations of the people, which has to a large extent been withdrawn from the country and been grouped in the suburbs of cities and large towns; so the population, which twenty or thirty or perhaps forty years ago did not increase in such localities, is, under the activity stimulated by profitable occupations, increasing rapidly; but in the central parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, where the transition from agriculture to commercial and manufacturing industries is still developing, population does not gain with very great strides. The changes from agriculture to commercial and manufacturing pursuits are indicative always of a transition from a permanent to an actively increasing density of population. This is evident in the upper Mississippi Valley and in Virginia, where the transition is becoming apparent. The areas known as the plains of the Cordilleran region are being peopled rapidly. This is particularly true in the northern portions. Cheap lands and easy tillage of the virgin soil are making the competition of Eastern agriculturists unprofitable, and so the farming population of the far Eastern States is recruiting the territory embracing the rich lands of the West. In Nevada we witness the peculiar spectacle of a loss of population resulting from the low condition of the mining interests. These facts as to increase and decrease give an indication of the ever-changing features relating to the density of population in great areas.

Taking the whole country, the progress of growth has been along the thirty-ninth parallel of latitude. The center of population, meaning thereby the center of gravity of the population of the country, each individual being assumed to have the same weight, was, in 1790, twenty-three miles east of Baltimore, Md, In 1890 it was twenty miles east of Columbus, Ind., five hundred and five miles west of the point at which it was located one hundred years ago. The variation of the center from latitude 39°, north or south, has been very slight, the extreme having been less than nineteen minutes, while the movement in longitude has been nearly 91/2°, On the basis of a uniform movement on the thirty-ninth parallel of latitude, the westward march for the first decade after the census of 1790 was forty-one miles; for the second, thirty-six miles; for the third, fifty miles; for the fourth, thirty-nine miles; for the fifth, fifty-five miles; for the sixth, fifty-five miles; for the seventh, eighty-one miles; for the eighth, forty-two miles; for the ninth, fifty-eight miles; and for the tenth, forty-eight miles, or an average movement each decade of fifty-five and a half miles. The position of the center of population at each census is accurately shown by the following table and the map which accompanies it:

Years. Approximate location by important towns. Westward move-
ment during
preceding decade.
1790 23 miles eats of Baltimore, Maryland . . . . .
1800 18 miles west of Baltimore, Maryland 41 miles
1810 40 miles northwest by west of Washington, Dist. of Columbia 36"
1820 16 miles north of Woodstock Virginia 50"
1830 19 miles west-southwest of Moorefield, West Virginia 39"
1840 16 miles south of Clarksburg, West Virginia 50"
1850 23 miles southeast of Parkersburg, West Virginia 55"
1860 20 miles south of Chillicothe, Ohio 81"
1870 48 miles east by north of Cincinnati, Ohio 42"
1880  8 miles west by south of Cincinnati, Ohio 58"
1890 20 miles east of Columbus, Indiana 48"

The official statements as to the center of population and as to the distribution of population in other respects, as will be shown, have been very carefully prepared by Mr. Henry Gannett, the able geographer of the tenth and eleventh censuses; but the statements have been made in various bulletins, and are here brought together in connected and compact form, with proper explanations.

It becomes interesting to know how the population of the country is distributed relative to what are recognized as drainage basins, which may be classified as the Atlantic Ocean, the Great Basin, and the Pacific Ocean. The classification of drainage areas under the first great division, that of the Atlantic Ocean, as a primary designation, has for its subsidiary divisions the New England coast, the Middle Atlantic coast, the South Atlantic coast, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Basin, for subsidiary divisions, has Great Salt Lake and the Humboldt River. The Pacific Ocean basin consists, secondarily, of the Colorado River, the Sacramento River, the Klamath River, and the Columbia River and their several great tributaries. The percentage of the total population, distributed over these drainage areas or basins, at the last three censuses, has been as follows:

Divisions. 1890. 1880. 1870.
Atlantic Ocean 96·2 97·1 97·8
New England coast 7·2 7·6 8·5
Middle Atlantic coast 18·3 19·2 20·8
South Atlantic coast 6·8 7·4 7·3
Great Lakes 11·2 10·7 11·0
Gulf of Mexico 52·7 52·2 50·2
Great Basin 0·4 0·4 0·3
Pacific Ocean 3·4 2·5 1·9

The table shows that more than ninety-six per cent of the inhabitants live in the country which is drained by the Atlantic Ocean; that more than one half of the population live in the region drained by the Gulf of Mexico, and that nearly forty-four per cent of the entire population of the country are congregated

PSM V40 D387 US population centers between 1790 and 1890.jpg

in the drainage area of the Mississippi River; that only four tenths of one per cent live in the Great Basin, and three and four tenths per cent on the Pacific coast. It shows further that the proportion living within the region drained to the Atlantic is steadily diminishing, while of this region the part drained to the Gulf of Mexico is becoming relatively more populous, as is the case in a still more marked degree in the Great Basin and the region drained to the Pacific.[1]

The tendency of population, as to topographical features, is best illustrated by a short table which has been condensed from the report of the census:

Regions Density of population.
1890. 1880. 1870.
Coast swamps 21·5 18·7 15·3
Atlantic plain 74·4 60·2 47·0
Piedmont region 69·5 55·8 45·8
New England hills 40·7 38·6 35·4
Appalachian Mountain region 49·8 41·7 34·3
Cumberland-Alleghany plateau 59·3 45·4 40·7
Interior timbered region 44·3 38·8 31·3
Lake region 25·1 17·6 12·1
Ozark Mountain region 22·8 16·0 10·3
Alluvial region of the Mississippi 23·6 18·2 12·2
Prairie region 28·3 21·2 14·6
Great Plains 1·4 0·4 0·1
North Rocky Mountains 1·1 0·4 0·2
South Rocky Mountains 2·1 1·7 0·7
Plateau region 0·7 0·5 0·2
Basin region 1·4 0·9 0·5
Columbian mesas 1·9 0·8 0·2
Sierra Nevada 4·9 4·6 3·8
Pacific Valley 9·1 5·2 3·5
Cascade Range 5·5 1·7 0·9
Coast Ranges 14·3 9·8 5·8

The greatest density, according to topographical features, is found in the Atlantic plain, it being 74·4 persons to the square mile, and the lowest density is in the Plateau region, it being 0∙7 of a person, on an average, to the square mile. Four and three tenths per cent of the entire population of the country is to be found in the coast swamps area and the alluvial region of the Mississippi River. This population consists mainly of the colored race. Two and three tenths per cent of the entire population is found in the desert and semi-desert regions of the country. The mountain regions of the West hold 2·5 per cent, while about one sixth of the entire population is to be found in the Eastern mountain region.

If we examine the distribution according to altitude, it will be found that more than three fourths of the population live below 1,000 feet above the level of the sea, and below 5,000 feet altitude nearly ninety-nine per cent of the inhabitants of the country find their residence. At great altitudes but few people are permanently residing. One sixth of the people live less than 100 feet above the sea-level. These, of course, reside along the seaboard and in the swamp and level regions of the South. Those living between 2,000 and 2,500 feet above the level of the sea are found largely on the slope of the great Western plains. Mr. Gannett finds that between 4,000 and 5,000 feet above the sea, but more especially between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, the population is greatly in excess of the grade or grades below it; and he attributes this appearance to the fact that the densest settlement at high altitudes in the Cordilleran region is at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains and in the valleys about Great Salt Lake, which regions lie between 4,000 and 0,000 feet elevation. In this great region the extensive settlements at the base of the mountains in Colorado are to be found between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above the level of the sea. The mining operations above 6,000 feet, being restricted to the Cordilleran region, largely located in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and California, account for the existence of the population at the altitude of 6,000 feet and more.

The population of the country is increasing numerically in all altitudes, but the relative movement is toward the region of greater altitudes, and is more clearly perceptible in the regions lying between 1,000 and 6,000 feet above the sea. The population is densest along the seaboard, the narrow strip containing our great seaports, as might be supposed; but the density diminishes, not only gradually but quite uniformly, up to 2,000 feet, when sparsity of population is the rule.

If we examine the population relative to latitude and longitude, it will be found that within those degrees in which are located the great cities the greatest density of population occurs, as, for instance, the area between 40° and 41° and longitudes 73° and 75°, containing the great cities of New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, with an aggregate population of 3,653,000 inhabitants; the single square degree between latitudes 42° and 43° and longitudes 71° and 72° degrees contains Boston and its suburbs, with 1,233,000 inhabitants, and that square between latitudes 39° and 40° and longitudes 75° and 76° holds Philadelphia, with 1,414,000 people. The square of latitudes 41° and 42° and longitudes 87° and 88°, which contains the larger portion of Chicago, has a population of 950,000. It is difficult to present the facts relative to the distribution of population in accordance with latitude and longitude for the whole country in this summary statement of salient points.

The distribution of population relative to mean annual rainfall indicates not only the tendency of people to seek arable lands. but their condition as to general healthfulness. The average annual rainfall in this country is 29·6 inches, but the variations range from zero to perhaps one hundred and twenty-five inches. Gauging the distribution of the population in accordance with the average annual rainfall in different localities, some interesting points are observable, not only as to the number of inhabitants in the areas calculated, but as to the density of population. The greater proportion of the people of the United States are living in the regions in which the annual rainfall is between thirty and fifty inches. Mr. Gannett calculates that about three fourths of the inhabitants of the country are found under these conditions; and, further, that as the rainfall increases or diminishes, the population diminishes rapidly. The density of population in regions where the average rainfall is between thirty and forty inches is 43·1 per square mile; in regions where it is from forty to fifty inches annually, the density is 59 per square mile; in regions where the rainfall is from fifty to sixty inches annually, the density is 25·1, and in the arid regions of the West, where the rainfall is less than twenty inches, being two fifths of the entire area of the country, less than three per cent, of the population finds its home. The population has increased rapidly in the regions having from thirty to forty inches average annual rainfall.

The importance of the knowledge of this distribution is supplemented by that with reference to the mean annual temperature, which is in the United States 52°, and the greatest density of population, as might be expected, centers on this pivot, ranging as it does from 50° to 55°. Either side of this range the density of population rapidly diminishes, as it was shown that it decreases rapidly outside the average rainfall between thirty and fifty inches. More than one half of the entire population of the country exists under a temperature between 45° and 55°, while seventy to seventy-five per cent of the inhabitants come within 45° and 50°. Where the temperature reaches 70° on the average, but a little over one per cent of the population finds its home, and the number living under a mean annual temperature above 75° is too trifling for consideration.

This line of facts leads to the consideration of the distribution of population in accordance with the relative humidity of the atmosphere, by which is understood the amount of moisture contained in it in proportion to the amount required to saturate it. This amount varies with the temperature; the higher the temperature, the greater the amount of moisture which it is capable of holding. The term is not a very exact one, but is relative and fairly indicative of conditions. The climate having very great influence upon certain classes of diseases, particularly pulmonary and throat complaints, a knowledge as to the distribution of population in accordance with mean relative humidity becomes apparent, and the Census Office is doing a great service in this census, as it did in 1880, in ascertaining the density of population under different degrees of humidity. A condensation of the report by Mr. Gannett on this point will perhaps give as much valuable information to those seeking healthful locations as can be gained from any side of census statistics. It is well known that the atmosphere is heavily charged with moisture in those regions which lie along our coast, whether ocean, gulf, or lake. This is markedly so on the coast of Oregon and Washington, where the atmosphere is more highly charged with moisture than anywhere else within our territory. The Appalachian Mountain regions, and largely those of the Rocky Mountains, have an atmosphere heavily charged; but in the Piedmont region, east of the Appalachian, and in the upper Mississippi Valley, the moisture is less, while it diminishes still more on the prairies and the Great Plains; and in Utah, Nevada, southern Arizona, and southeastern California the minimum amount is reached. Of course the atmosphere is charged with moisture relative to the increase and decrease of the rainfall, as a rule; but throughout the upper lake region, while the atmosphere is as moist as that of the State of Washington, the rainfall is much less, and the coast of southern California has as moist an atmosphere as the Atlantic coast but a deficient rainfall.

The following table shows the percentage of humidity, in classified order, the percentage of the total population of the United States in 1870, 1880, and 1890, living according to the classification of humidity, and the density of population under the same conditions for the same years:

Groups. Percentage of total population. Density.
1890. 1880. 1870. 1890. 1880. 1870.
Below 50 0·49  0·44  0·35  1·14  0·80  0·50 
50 to 55 0·59  0·40  0·24  1·44  0·67  0·30 
55 to 60 0·46  0·27  0·16  1·35  0·61  0·28 
60 to 65 1·39  0·87  0·35  2·89  1·46  0·45 
65 to 70 36·68  38·44  37·31  31·46  26·41  20·26 
70 to 75 54·40  54·39  56·76  40·07  32·10  25·74 
75 to 80 5·34  4·79  4·49  14·21  10·22  7·36 
Above 80 0·55  0·40  0·34  5·55  3·22  2·09 

A glance at this table shows that nearly all the population breathe an atmosphere containing sixty-five to seventy-five per cent of its full capacity of moisture; that is, the atmosphere is from two thirds to three fourths saturated. In 1890, 57,036,000 out of 62,622,250 were found in this region; in 1880, 46,559,000 out of 50,155,783; and in 1870, 36,273,000 out of 38,558,371. The number of inhabitants living in a drier atmosphere was at each census comparatively trifling, numbering in 1870 less than half a million, and in 1890 less than two millions. In the moister atmosphere were found larger numbers scattered along the Gulf coast and the shores of Washington and Oregon. The most rapid increase has been found at the top and bottom of the scale, and particularly in the more arid region, where the population has nearly doubled during each of the last two periods,[2] showing that great areas that are not particularly favored by the elements are gradually being redeemed through the enterprise that marks our modern industrial era.

  1. Census Bulletin No. 47, by Henry Gannett.
  2. See Census Bulletin No. 44.