Chicago fact of the day

Chicago in 1850 was a muddy frontier town of barely 30,000 people. Within two decades, it was 10 times that size. Within another two decades, that number had tripled. By 1910, Chicago — hog butcher for the world, headquarters of Montgomery Ward, the nerve center of the nation’s rail network — had more than two million residents.

That is Emily Badger on what happened to American boomtowns, via David Levine.  p.s. this doesn’t happen any more.


When did Chicago become the second largest city in US? And when did it lose that tag to LA? Talking of population here.

My wild guess - 1870 for the former and 1960 for the latter?

WASHINGTON, April 7— New York is still No. 1, but Los Angeles, the western anchor of the fast-growing Sun Belt, has replaced Chicago as the nation's second largest city, the Census Bureau reported today. Chicago, which has been the nation's second city since 1890, lost population from 1980 to 1982 and slipped to No. 3.

Apr 8, 1984

Thanks google. So I was off by a couple of decades.

Wolfram alpha is a wonderful tool for these queries,+new+york,+los+angeles

Nice, but hindered by City boundaries not really matching city boundaries. You could do LA County, and treat it as a city to get closer.

I have seen "LA - Santa Ana" used as well, but that seems arbitrary. Why not Malibu - Dana Point?

"I have seen “LA – Santa Ana” used as well, but that seems arbitrary. Why not Malibu – Dana Point?"

Yeah, the geographers seem flummoxed by what to call Orange County. I guess there's some requirement that they have to use the name of an actual city or town, so they call it either "Santa Ana" or "Anaheim". Neither of which are particularly major cities nor do they dominate Orange County, except maybe in cultural space thanks to Disneyland. But the other larger cities in Orange County, Irvine and Huntington Beach, might better typify Orange County to Southern Californians than Anaheim or Santa Ana do.

Orange County is populous enough to be a metropolis by itself, but unlike Los Angeles County it's not dominated by any single city. To label the place "Santa Ana" or "Anaheim" is as misleading as labeling the USA as "California". But that's what the geographers do (or maybe it's the census people who are to blame?).

The dense settlement around New York is 18,000,000; that around Los Angeles is north of 14,000,000. That around Chicago is about 8.5 million. Next in line are the Bay Area, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and Philadelphia, which have populations north of 5 million. After that are Washington, Detroit, and Atlanta, which are around 4 million. Atlanta and Washington have some demographic dynamism; Detroit is stagnant.

You missed mentioning Boston

The Census Bureau uses a weak threshold when defining 'urbanized area' (and also a weaker threshold than it used 25 years ago) which adds blocs of exurban territory. If you use a threshold density of 1000 persons per sq mile, the dense settlement around Boston is around 2.8 million. IIRC, Minneapolis, Seattle, and San Diego are similar.

What about Houston?

We're living over greensky bluegrass

minus one deviation and a whole lot of hell to pay

Obviously, the massive growth of the DC metro region is really easy to ignore, isn't it? And let us be honest - Washington is not where the growth really occurred, and Til Hazel never bothered to spread his vision over its limited boundaries.

And really, you cannot have it both ways, and least when talking about DC -

'In the Boston suburbs, the Bay Area, Brooklyn and Washington, people who already live there have balked at new housing for people who don’t.'


'On net, about 47,000 have left both San Jose and Washington, D.C.,...' would simply seem to be the sort of contradiction that this web site never never bothers to pay much attention to.

Possibly because the headline is 'Chicago fact of the day' even if the link is to 'Emily Badger on what happened to American boomtowns,' after all, an article that decries in DC's case, a city suffering from apparent net out migration, needs to build more housing.

(Amusingly, in DC's particular case, this is wrong - 'For the most part, the federal government doesn’t have the power to create that policy. But local cities and suburbs do.' DC is always at the mercy of the federal government in the end, which is the only government with real power in DC.)

p.s. this doesn’t happen any more.

It's happened fairly recently re Phoenix and Las Vegas. As recently as 1966, Greater Reno was more populous than Greater Las Vegas. Now, Vegas has 6x the population of Reno. Greater Miami is 10x the size it was in 1950. The peninsular portion of Florida has 15x the population it did in 1940.

The cities with the highest incomes aren't growing, though.

They probably are, by "daily workers" as commutes lengthen.

Look at Frederick County, Md. The abnormal population increase since 1960 might account for about 4% of the workforce in greater Washington, if that. Spotsylvania County, Va., perhaps 3%, if that.

It does happen but not in the US. Dubai surely. 1970 a backwater, now all those gleaming spires.


While I am a YIMBY, I think it is a bit much to rely on 2 or even 5 US cities for growth. This is a big country. Break ground somewhere.

Atlanta had a population under 3,000 in 1850. By 1910 the area had half a million residents. So, at that point, the growth rates were similar, but Atlanta still trailed Chicago handily in total population. But from 1960-2010, Atlanta's metro area grew from 1.3 million to 5.3 million, though still just over half of Chicago's metro area population. Chicago went from 5.5 to 9.5 million over 1960-2010.

You need to get out more. Visit LA, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Tampa Bay. What do they have in common? Go South, young man. What's in store for the future? I'm not sure. What I do know is that predictions of Chicago's demise are, at best, premature. By the way, back in 1900, demographer's predicted that Buffalo's population today would be 20 million.

Economists aren't the only ones with a poor track record for predicting the future. What's with the obsession for predictions of the future. Lots of folks devote their attention to the past (especially rewriting the past), but few devote time to the present.


Beware the IOT bot AI transgressions and the reprobate retaliation at scale(s).

From 1950-2010 Phoenix went from 100,000 residents to 1.4 million. It's not as dramatic as what happened in Chicago, but if you counted its suburban population today vs Chicago's of 1910 you would probably close the gap a little.

The tract development in Maricopa County Arizona has a population of about 3.4 million. You can see Phoenix and Tucson here:

The tract development is on the verge of extending into the county to the southwest of Maricopa. An uncle of mine retired to Arizona in 1990 (having grown up there, more or less). Between the time he finished high school (1929) and the time he returned, the population of the valley he'd grown up in increased 15 fold.

southeast of Maricopa.

If air conditioning hadn't have been invented the population of Phoenix would be less than Rock Island, Illinois.

real ovals are over the plight dodo's overmigrated and shovels dug their own graves

depends on how I write the simple bayesian logic at the root of all things. In the machine code, the graves are set to 0 and the systems the systems escalate the flags all the way to the top, causing anarchy and unintended consequences to innocent people.

The past was super cool, stupid regulations, who needs them? Oh wait......Chicago mid 1950s

[To think about it another way: If these highly productive metros would build enough housing, Mr. Schleicher believes that would do more to improve the prospects of American workers and buoy the nation’s economy than proposals like lowering corporate taxes contained in the tax bill the Senate passed last week.

“And it’s not even close,” Mr. Schleicher wrote in an email. “A policy that aimed at reducing barriers to locational choice would outperform anything in the tax reform bill.”]

One example to reduce barriers to location, would be to centralize all welfare benefits, and stop this silly notion that the monetary value of benefits should be adjusted for location cost of living. This of course, would be the mother of all gentrification projects, and would possibly turn lots of blue cities red, as the non productive residents would leave for where the fixed welfare dollars go furthest.

A side benefit, is that countless old "projects" of places like Manhattan could get re allocated. Furthermore, what is within the power of (federal) government, is to long term move the majority of government employees to where cost of living is below avarage.

There is also the assumption that the marginal worker of a metro area will add the average economic output. Where is the evidence?

This of course, would be the mother of all gentrification projects, and would possibly turn lots of blue cities red, as the non productive residents would leave for where the fixed welfare dollars go furthest.

So you're saying that Trump voters are productive people who would move to the city if only there weren't so many unproductive welfare recipients driving up the housing prices?

Maybe they are already there, just outnumbered.

I am saying I believe in supply and demand curves, and the effect on prices in a free market when either of those curves get shifted. If a housing subsidy were a fixed $500 per month regardless of state of residence, it does mean there would ultimately be fewer poor people in expensive cities.

If we talk about Manhattan, it is not clear if if rich bankers were voting for Trump or Clinton, but they might have been rewarded quite a bit, if their income counts as passthrough, however the removal of state tax deduct ability would be expensive if living in NYC and making $500K.

"Ultimately" perhaps but by a painful path:

"When asked about the administration’s budget, which still includes no additional vouchers for the hard-case veterans, Carson said HUD had “excess vouchers. When we use those, we’ll look for more,” he said.

“The old paradigm of dumping money on problems doesn’t work,” Carson added.

Some communities have excess vouchers, but many more don’t have enough, said Harig-Blaine, who is also a member of Shulkin's advisory committee for homelessness. Even in cities where there are excess vouchers, they exist only because the voucher community can’t compete with private market rents, he said — not because there aren’t homeless veterans there.

"Even in cities where there are excess vouchers, they exist only because the voucher community can’t compete with private market rents, "

I found this in Politico and some other stories. How should that statement be interpreted, as there are clearly some implicit assumptions, the politico story didn't clarify what is close to a null statement, but I will give it a try:

Assume the voucher offers less than the market clearing rent for a given housing type, and the homeless veteran has no spending power beyond the voucher. Now, there will be no voluntary transaction. Digging a little deeper, there are some articles:

Some places (politico) call this a $460 Million dollar program, but it is not clear if that is an annualized number, and it is not specified how many family-years of housing is provided.

If you used Wichita, Kansas as a baseline, the median 2 bedroom apartment is $650/month, throw in $100/month for utilities, and you get to $750/month, or $9K/year. Without overhead, $420 million per year should be enough to house 46,666 veteran families in 2 bedroom apartments. I picked a cheap city, but not a dump like Flint, Michigan. The survey of 10 cheapest cities might be a bit on the high side, as those are all fairly central, close to downtown rents in decent cities. How does it really work?

From the article:

"HUD's Section 8 voucher program has designated more than 1,750 vouchers worth $44.5 million for chronically mentally ill homeless veterans, and VA personnel at 34 sites provide outreach, clinical care and case management services. This approach significantly reduces homelessness for veterans plagued by serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders." They are spending $25000 per veteran per year for the HUD joint venture!

Personally, as a landlord, the risks of renting out to a mentally ill veteran are many, and the benefits few. Who pays if the house gets trashed? If he or she gets a psychotic episode, what does that do to the turnover of other tenants? What if he perceives a conflict between me and him? Now I have an adversarial relationship with somebody who is mentally ill, and possibly trained in using weapons. The recent protectiveness of the military (preferential boarding on flights anyone?) is also a motivation not to do business with enlisted or officers: if they get orders to move, that invalidates penalties for breaking the lease. What good is an agreement that only one party has to adhere to?

I am with you that mobility is good, and that the homeless could more cheaply housed in cheaper cities.

But it seems difficult to "help" people to those cities without being accused of "dumping."



Interesting discussion, also other comments visible after clicking on the Krugman tweet he is replying to.

There might be some tradeoff between a cheaper location, and the social support net that may exist in the current location. The advantage with a fixed monetary welfare amount, is that the recipient will have the ability to make that tradeoff, although might not always be in a position to choose based on affordability. I see some good arguments against my proposal, on the other hand, as some so called desirable cities have 5-10 years waiting lists for a housing voucher, the current geographical system has some big problems.

I think your radically underestimating the number of poor people who vote Republican, and the number of rich people who vote Democrat.
And most cities are lopsidedly democratic to an extreme degree. As in 80% Democratic in many cities. All of those people are not unproductive welfare cases.

"One example to reduce barriers to location, would be to centralize all welfare benefits, and stop this silly notion that the monetary value of benefits should be adjusted for location cost of living. "

What would be the dollar value of welfare benefits? The level in NYC-Boston-SF, or Mississippi-Alabama???

Would living costs in Missippi, etc stay low from an influx of 50 million people on on welfare including SS+Medicare cut to current welfare benefits of those red State areas with poor economy and generally poor health?

"Would living costs in Missippi, etc stay low from an influx of 50 million people on on welfare including SS+Medicare cut to current welfare benefits of those red State areas with poor economy and generally poor health?"

I don't know the resulting cost of living, but that Mississippi would definitively qualify as a boom town!!!

"What would be the dollar value of welfare benefits? The level in NYC-Boston-SF, or Mississippi-Alabama???"

How about the value we can afford with a balanced federal budget?

The staggering feature of the housing bubble in Arizona, Nevada, and Florida in 2004-2005 is that it was triggered by a massive migration. That is not uncommon. Home prices have been high in North Dakota, where workers are flooding in to the oil boom. San Francisco was overrun during the Gold Rush, etc. What made this migration bubble outrageous is that the households moving into those cities were largely moving away from cities with higher local incomes and more economic opportunities. We engineered an anti-Gold Rush. We managed to create a bubble in compromises and second-best options. When home prices in Phoenix exploded in 2004-2005, those homes were inferior goods for their buyers, who were moving away from Los Angeles. We had a bubble in inferior goods. That's how screwed up this is.

You never get inferior goods when you leave California.

Chicago has some spectacular geographic attributes, pretty much unrivaled on earth when considered from 19th-20th century technology. The placidity and deep southerly reach of Lake Michigan is unrivaled, and being at the bottom of the lake it is perfect for the vast sprawl a rail hub needs. The Illinois River is basically a natural canal and effortless to bridge while at its mid continental rivals located at major river junctions, Detroit, St Louis, Paducah, etc.. the waterways create bottlenecks for railroads. The Eads Bridge at St Louis could not be built until 1874. It’s only real rivals were St Louis and Kansas City and they were hardly rivals. Only Wuhan and Kiev, Novgorod, Mainz, Metz, Yangzhou and Wuhan rival it’s geography and Lacks both pesky mountains and has only experienced domestic peace in its century and a half. And the perfect timing of the development of department stores and mail order with the telegraph and railroad meant all it rivals were choked in the cradle. It took solving yellow fever, malaria, the private car and a/c to give it its forst Southern Rival which should have been New Orleans but ended up Dallas and Houston.

Considering the massive wave of population filling the continent it is hard to imagine an alternative setting for such a metropolis.

St Louis was better located to be a rail hub. With access down the Mississippi to the ocean. But the Civil War helped pushed growth north.

But railroads are only part of the picture. St. Louis is not nearly as well located as Chicago to participate in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway commerce.

The St Lawrence Seaway as a deep water passage was around 1959-60

Erie Canal - 1825

Wikipedia version
During the Civil War, the infrastructure of St. Louis had suffered from neglect; another cholera epidemic struck in 1866, and typhoid fever raged in certain quarters

In addition to connecting St. Louis with the west, the railroads began to demand connections with the east across the Mississippi.[6] From 1820 to 1865 a single ferry company in Illinois controlled the majority of traffic across the river, leading to high costs and delays during winter.[6] Plans for a bridge over the river had begun as early as 1839, but were abandoned due to cost.[16] After the Civil War bridges across the Mississippi were completed at Quincy, Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa, linking Chicago to western markets at the expense of St. Louis.[17] State legislators from northern Illinois conspired during the late 1860s to prevent or delay bridge construction originating in East St. Louis, Illinois, in order to cement the position of Chicago as a transit hub.[18] However, in 1867 leading St. Louis bankers and merchants formed a company to bridge the river from the Missouri side.

Or from another source

Between 1850 and 1870 there was a rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago for dominance in the Midwest. Chicago eventually won because:a. St. Louis leaders were passively conservative and depended upon St. Louis' superior location, whereas Chicago leaders were more astute and agressively developed the potential of the railroads. Rail provided year-round transport while river travel was impossible five months of the year.
b. St. Louis aligned herself with New Orleans for the competition with Chicago, but New Orleans began to focus on cotton and the South rather than the river trade of the Midwest. The Civil War closed the lower Mississippi.

St Loius was impacted more by the Civil War, with more divided royalties.

An article on St Louis Vs Chicago as a transport hub

"it is hard to imagine an alternative setting": the curse of hindsight.

Chicago is located at the near intersection of the two main watersheds of North America: the Mississippi and St. Lawrence. A secondary continental divide runs through Summit, IL 12 miles southwest of The Loop. There's a big statue there of French explorers who had to portage their canoes on their shoulders there for about a mile to traverse from one watershed to the other.

A canal was constructed there in the 1830s, and then railroads and airports followed to keep Chicago the nation's primary transportation hub.

read NATURE'S METROPOLIS by William Cronon for explanation of Chicago's rise and not others in the 'northwest'

As others have noted, this data may be distorted by the changes in the way city boundaries are defined today. The DC Metro area, Bay Area, Greater Las Vegas are all places people have noted have experienced rapid population growth but the boundaries of DC, San Francisco etc. haven't expanded to encompass those suburbs.

The Census Bureau 'urbanized area' is roughly equivalent to the city as a physical settlement. It's a trifle overbounded, though. Not all that significant re top tier cities, but it it is with regard to middlng and small cities.

'but the boundaries of DC, San Francisco etc. haven’t expanded to encompass those suburbs.'

Ironically, in the case of DC, Alexandria and Arlington were retroceded to Virginia in the mid-1840s (among other reasons due to the citizens of Alexandria wanting to ensure that the federal government did not stick its meddling nose into a profitable local business activity - slave trading ).

I'm sure the property values in your neighborhood improved when you decamped to Krautopia.

From Middleburg? I doubt it.

Fear and loathing of colloquial spatial definitions. Fascinating,...

I believe that the "this" which Tyler says is no longer happening is the combination of explosive population growth with much higher wages, not simply explosive population growth by itself.

+1000. It's not just about more people.

"p.s. this doesn’t happen any more."

Here are the top growing metro areas from 1990 to 2016. How much population growth is needed to meet your boomtown standards?

(There can also be a pro-Mormon interpretation of this table.)

The Villages, FL (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 31,882 123,996 288.9%
St. George, UT (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 49,183 160,245 225.8%
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 756,170 2,155,664 185.1%
Austin-Round Rock, TX (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 851,898 2,056,405 141.4%
Bend-Redmond, OR (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 76,053 181,307 138.4%
Raleigh, NC (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 548,874 1,302,946 137.4%
Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 154,568 365,136 136.2%
Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 196,448 449,295 128.7%
Greeley, CO (Metropolitan Statistical Area)* 132,161 294,932 123.2%
Provo-Orem, UT (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 270,713 603,309 122.9%
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 387,200 849,843 119.5%
Coeur d'Alene, ID (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 70,443 154,311 119.1%
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 241,478 525,032 117.4%
Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 95,491 205,249 114.9%
Boise City, ID (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 322,316 691,423 114.5%
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 339,012 722,336 113.1%
Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 98,955 208,563 110.8%
Prescott, AZ (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 108,818 225,562 107.3%
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 2,249,116 4,661,537 107.3%
Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 102,754 211,614 105.9%
Gainesville, GA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 96,215 196,637 104.4%
Laredo, TX (Metropolitan Statistical Area) 134,430 271,193 101.7%

Don't ignore the role of ethnic enclaves that fostered establishment in a new community. The tribal nature of housing in that era. The creation of a sense of community in a foreign environment. Social support from the community rather than the government. The role of extended families to establish beachheads. The willingness to endure hardship in exchange for opportunity.

Now housing regulations and the high cost of buying "protection" (ie a safe community). Previously racial and ethnic segregation meant more mixed-income communities for newcomers of the same tribe. Now low income often equals high crime. While this has always held true to a large degree, tribal alliances could make you feel safer.

Now the high housing prices can buy you protection from outsiders and protect your tribe (now based on income). Former racial and ethnic barriers have increasingly become class barriers (and those class barriers are still partially racial and ethnic).

Housing regulations do slow migration but what is the motivation for the regulation?

BTW you still see this pattern to a degree in the Hispanic and Asian communities.

Without massive manual labor required, I doubt we will ever see a situation where someone opens up a factory like the Highland Park Ford Plant hiring 13,000 employees. This is going to limit how "boomy" a "boom town" can be.

But I think it is interesting to look at the Front Range Urban Corridor, it is growing around 2% per year in population, and there is plenty of land to build on (and incredible scenic beauty). Boulder/Broomfield is becoming a tech hot spot in particular.

Amazon claims its HQ2 will bring in 50K employees. It seems clear that they are including employees of firms that support Amazon employees, but unless they're using a super-high multiplier we're probably talking well in excess of 15K Amazon employees.

Vestas brought in 4,000+ jobs to the Front Range. Yes, they're spread across four facilities, but that's more a function of the very different needs for building turbine blades, nacelles, and towers.

read NATURE'S METROPOLIS by William Cronon.


Rabelias' last words were to Faulkner, "Pay, lit, own."

And the custom NLP engine has codified all economist theory and spit out all the garbage into hierarchical deterministic probability using standard gaussian algorithms taught in MIT post-doc classes. William Cronon has already been refactored and is but a minor conditional in pending trade triggers.

p.s. this doesn’t happen any more.

the scale is smaller and the timeline foreshortened, but Williston, ND, center of the Bakken oil patch, has more than doubled its population in the last 7 years - and by some estimates may have tripled in size at one point.

Chicago also benefited way back when from some geoengineering, as they reshaped the Mississippi and connected it to the Great Lakes, allowing Chicago to become a hub for river transport. It also introduced detrimental new species into the two ecosystems, but as Simon Kuznets will tell you, that's a small price to pay for progress! :)

Wow - who knew that 66 and its name was so controversial. Amazing the sort of insight one gains at this comment section.

And mea culpa - wrong thread.

(refactors latest NPM package)

And not a word was uttered about the connection between mass third-world immigration and the rising cost of living in major cities. Nothing to see here folks, move along!

People are moving to Charlotte instead of Palo Alto because the $10k - $20k salary boost from working in PA also comes with housing which costs 5 - 10 more, not to mention significantly higher state and local taxes and fees. There is no puzzle here.

Thanks for the hat tip! As Virginia Postrel wrote years ago, "The Future Once Happened Here"

Isn't there a big problem here that in this analysis, growing prosperity as they measure it, by highest incomes, can be confounded by selectivity? That is, San Fran is among most prosperous by their measure because scarce (expensive) housing filters for individuals with high income potential.

Have expansionary house building, and you have falls to housing costs, and you decrease the selective filter and you'd see regression back to the mass, and the noisy lack of correlation between wage and population increase.

Austin fact of the day: people from Houston, whose mugshots one finds dismaying (which then fills one with guilt), often drive to Austin to sell strange newfangled drugs to the homeless people who gather at the city's clubhouse for the homeless, or to burgle houses, or to shoplift - if "shoplift" is the right word for openly stuffing thousands of dollars' worth of goods in their bags - at high-end stores in "easy," lightly-policed Austin.

That is all that booming Austin has to offer them.

While this may not hold true in America anymore, it is happening rapidly around the world. Seoul for example experienced rapid population growth and grew to be an international mega city. The shift in thought adopted a more modern approach to economic well being. By using proven ideas that have worked for other countries, take USA, they can then experience rapid growth like Chicago.

“This doesn’t happen anymore “ —> see Shenzhen

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