Fascinating Chart: Top 20 Metropolitan Areas in the U.S.A., 1790-2010

Illustration for article titled Fascinating Chart: Top 20 Metropolitan Areas in the U.S.A., 1790-2010

This amazing chart follows the rise and fall — and in some cases, rise and fall and rise — of American cities. Peak Bagger has charted the rank of 20 metropolitan areas every decade from 1790 to 2010. Poor Detroit.


Most interestingly — New York City took the number one spot over 200 years ago, and has held onto it ever since. But Los Angeles and San Francisco have come from behind to take the number two and number four spots, respectively. Washington, D.C. has had a wild ride. Note that this chart only looks at rank, not absolute size or growth rate.

What's especially interesting is the chart of peak years — the years when particular cities had their highest ranking. For a lot of Eastern cities, it's the 18th century or early 19th century, including 1740 for Boston, and 1800 for Providence, Philadelphia and Norfolk. But Detroit peaked in 1930 and Chicago peaked in 1950. Huh. [via Laughing Squid and Washington Post]

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For those wondering about how rank is defined ...

The city/metropolitan area with the largest population has rank 1, the second has rank 2, etc. That is, a city/metropolitan area's rank is its place in a list of cities/metros sorted by population size.

The difficult part of this exercise was not figuring one where cities ranked, per se, but figuring out how to define the cities/metros in ways that are comparable within and across decades given the data available, particularly before 1910. See the Peak Bagger link for more information on methodology.

P.S. The "Discuss" bubbles that normally allow you to reply to others' posts are not working for me. Are they working for you?