The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790
View the high resolution version of today’s infographic by clicking here
There are only two cities that have had the distinction of being named the most populous city in the United States.
The first city to hold the title was Philadelphia, as the City of Brotherly Love was estimated to be the biggest city in the country at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
However, by the time of the first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia by a few thousand residents – and the Big Apple has stayed the largest in the country ever since.
From Then to Now
Today’s infographic comes to us from Liberty Cruise, and it ranks the 10 most populous cities in the United States for every decade since 1790.
To start, let’s take a look at what the list looked just after the first U.S. Census in 1790:
|#1||New York City, NY||33,131|
|#6||Northern Liberties Township, PA||9,913|
It’s pretty surreal to think that some of the biggest cities in the late 18th century hosted no more than 6,000 residents.
It also may be a surprise to many that Rhode Island – a state that ranks 50th in size and 44th in population today – held two of the largest towns in the nation at the time: Newport and Providence.
The Modern List
Jump forward over 200 years, and New York City has not lost its top spot.
It helped that NYC was able to absorb Brooklyn – one of the country’s other largest cities – into its boundaries in 1898. Other major cities saw similar merges happen over the years, with Philadelphia absorbing Northern Liberties Township, for example.
Here is a list of the most populous U.S. cities in 2017 (est.):
|Rank||City||Population (Est. 2017)||Population (2010 Census)||Change|
|#1||New York City, NY||8,622,698||8,175,133||+5.47%|
|#2||Los Angeles, CA||3,999,759||3,792,621||+5.46%|
|#7||San Antonio, TX||1,511,946||1,327,407||+13.90%|
|#8||San Diego, CA||1,419,516||1,307,402||+8.58%|
|#10||San Jose, CA||1,035,317||945,942||+9.45%|
In contrast to the NYC of today, the 1790 population looks more like a Long Island suburb.
This rapid urbanization is mainly thanks to Industrial Revolution, which triggered a massive migration to cities, allowing New York to grow 26,000% in total population.
Here’s how the population distribution of New York City’s five boroughs has changed over time:
Interested in learning more about the country’s largest cities?
Does a City’s Population Size Impact its Quality of Life?
Are big cities all they’re cracked up to be? These interactive charts about population size question whether bigger always equals better.
Does a City’s Population Size Impact its Quality of Life?
City living isn’t everyone’s cup of tea—the world’s most populous cities especially can be hectic, noisy, and busy.
Yet, despite the chaos of urban life, cities offer inhabitants a number of comforts and conveniences that are harder to find in smaller towns. That’s why more people are moving into urban areas around the world.
But do these conveniences reflect in people’s quality of lives?
According to research compiled by Elaine Siu, bigger doesn’t always mean better—at least when it comes to population size. This interactive visualization takes a deep dive into this dataset.
Measuring Quality of Life
Siu uses data from Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index to compare the quality of life in nearly 200 different cities around the world. For the purposes of this research, Siu used cities with metropolitan area populations of over 500,000.
The index measures quality of life using eight different metrics:
- Cost of Living
- Purchasing Power
- Property Price to Income Ratio
- Traffic Commute Time
A majority of the metrics (six of the eight) seemed to correlate with population size, suggesting that the bigger a city’s population is, the lower its quality of life in those metrics.
Here’s a look at the full list of cities included in the study, along with their overall quality of life scores and their metro area populations:
|City||Quality of Life Index||Metro Area Population|
|The Hague (Den Haag), Netherlands||204.88||709,388|
|Charlotte, NC, United States||194.31||2,701,046|
|Seattle, WA, United States||194.3||4,018,762|
|Oklahoma City, OK, United States||192.79||1,441,647|
|Austin, TX, United States||192.56||2,352,426|
|Quebec City, Canada||192.11||837,814|
|Columbus, OH, United States||191.34||2,151,017|
|San Diego, CA, United States||188.18||3,286,069|
|San Antonio, TX, United States||188.14||2,601,788|
|San Jose, CA, United States||187.16||1,952,185|
|Edinburgh, United Kingdom||185.01||548,206|
|Kansas City, MO, United States||181.28||2,199,490|
|Albuquerque, NM, United States||181.09||918,259|
|Glasgow, United Kingdom||179.79||1,688,907|
|Dubai, United Arab Emirates||178.96||2,964,382|
|Portland, OR, United States||176.92||2,511,612|
|Dallas, TX, United States||175.71||7,759,615|
|Jacksonville, FL, United States||175.25||1,637,666|
|Boston, MA, United States||174.52||4,899,932|
|Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates||173.13||1,539,830|
|Milwaukee, WI, United States||171.44||1,566,487|
|Indianapolis, IN, United States||171.2||2,126,804|
|Houston, TX, United States||170.9||7,206,841|
|Tucson, AZ, United States||168.76||1,052,030|
|Denver, CO, United States||167.36||2,972,566|
|Nashville, TN, United States||164.87||2,012,476|
|Bristol, United Kingdom||164.74||700,630|
|Atlanta, GA, United States||163.99||6,144,050|
|Sacramento, CA, United States||163.54||2,411,428|
|Washington, DC, United States||162.88||6,356,434|
|Auckland, New Zealand||161||1,652,341|
|Baltimore, MD, United States||160.36||2,838,327|
|Belfast, United Kingdom||159.26||638,717|
|Prague, Czech Republic||158.87||1,318,085|
|San Francisco, CA, United States||157.57||4,623,264|
|Philadelphia, PA, United States||154.13||6,228,601|
|Phoenix, AZ, United States||151.95||4,946,145|
|Riyadh, Saudi Arabia||150.72||7,538,200|
|Birmingham, United Kingdom||149.32||2,645,598|
|Las Vegas, NV, United States||148.17||2,292,476|
|Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel||147.84||4,343,584|
|Manchester, United Kingdom||147.47||2,770,434|
|Cape Town, South Africa||145.05||4,800,954|
|Chicago, IL, United States||144.81||9,509,934|
|Jeddah (Jiddah), Saudi Arabia||144.4||4,780,740|
|Los Angeles, CA, United States||139.75||12,997,353|
|Nizhny Novgorod, Russia||139.25||1,252,917|
|Durban, South Africa||139.09||3,199,329|
|New York, NY, United States||137.32||19,768,458|
|Pretoria, South Africa||133.25||2,739,768|
|Detroit, MI, United States||133.05||4,365,205|
|Johannesburg, South Africa||132.58||6,065,354|
|Chiang Mai, Thailand||127.81||1,197,931|
|Sharjah, United Arab Emirates||127.77||1,785,684|
|London, United Kingdom||126.14||9,540,576|
|Seoul, South Korea||125.66||9,975,709|
|Krakow (Cracow), Poland||123.44||769,595|
|San Juan, Puerto Rico||118.97||2,442,512|
|Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||117.7||8,419,566|
|Kuwait City, Kuwait||116.64||3,238,523|
|San Jose, Costa Rica||115.02||1,441,324|
|Panama City, Panama||110.94||1,937,963|
|Porto Alegre, Brazil||107.74||4,185,488|
|Belo Horizonte, Brazil||107.2||6,194,292|
|Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine||106.88||3,010,209|
|Odessa (Odesa), Ukraine||106.41||1,007,989|
|Hong Kong, Hong Kong||103.85||7,643,256|
|Skopje, North Macedonia||101.02||605,996|
|Buenos Aires, Argentina||99.23||15,369,919|
|Saint Petersburg, Russia||97.91||5,535,556|
|Guatemala City, Guatemala||95.46||3,036,405|
|Mexico City, Mexico||85.94||22,085,140|
|Sao Paulo, Brazil||78.54||22,429,800|
|Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||70.28||13,634,274|
|Colombo, Sri Lanka||66.85||625,637|
|Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam||66.41||9,077,158|
It’s worth noting that the negative correlation between the quality of life and population size only appeared in cities above the median population of 2.4 million people, indicating that the size of a city doesn’t appear to impact quality of life until a certain tipping point. Then, above the median, there’s a blatant downward trend.
However, Tokyo is an anomaly—its quality of life is much higher than it’s metropolitan population would predict.
Zooming in on Tokyo
Despite being the world’s largest urban area, Tokyo compares favorably compared to other top megacities across the index. When ranked among the top five megacities, it places in first for Purchasing Power, Safety, Traffic Commute Time, Cost of Living, Healthcare, and Pollution.
What’s so special about Tokyo? One major thing going for the Japanese city is its immaculate public transport system. The city’s transport is so efficient, the city’s rail service once issued a public apology after a train left the station 25 seconds earlier than its scheduled departure.
Another factor that makes Tokyo so livable is its relatively affordable housing, at least compared to other big cities like New York and Hong Kong. This is partly because of the city’s flexible land zoning system, which makes it relatively easy for developers to build housing and mix-use communities.
As our world becomes increasingly more urbanized, and cities around the world continue to increase in size, will they be able to emulate Tokyo’s growth? And if not, what other city design trends and innovations can cities utilize to raise quality of live?
Ranked: The World’s Most Surveilled Cities
The world’s most surveilled cities contain hundreds of thousands of cameras. View this infographic to see the data in perspective.
Ranked: The World’s Most Surveilled Cities
This may come as a surprise, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the global urban population overtook the rural population. At that time, the two groups were split nearly 50/50, with around 3.3 billion people apiece.
Today, the percentage of people living in urban areas has grown to over 55%, and is expected to reach 68% by 2050. Due to this trend, many of the world’s largest cities have become home to tens of millions of people.
In response to such incredible density, governments, businesses, and households have installed countless security cameras for various purposes including crime protection. To grasp the scale of this surveillance, we’ve taken data from a recent report by Comparitech to visualize the most surveilled cities in the world.
The List (Excluding China)
Excluding China for the time being, these are the world’s 10 most surveilled cities.
|City||Population||Number of Cameras||Cameras per
|🇮🇳 Indore, India||3.2M||200,600||63|
|🇮🇳 Hyderabad, India||10.5M||440,299||42|
|🇮🇳 Delhi, India||16.3M||436,600||27|
|🇮🇳 Chennai, India||11.5M||282,126||25|
|🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia||12.6M||213,000||17|
|🇮🇶 Baghdad, Iraq||7.5M||120,000||16|
|🇬🇧 London, UK||9.5M||127,373||13|
|🇷🇺 St. Petersburg, Russia||5.5M||70,000||13|
|🇺🇸 Los Angeles, U.S.||3.9M||34,959||9|
The top four cities all belong to India, which is the world’s second largest country by population. Surveillance cameras are playing a major role in the country’s efforts to reduce crimes against women.
Further down the list are cities from a variety of countries. One of these is Russia, which has expanded its use of surveillance cameras in recent years. Given the country’s track record of human rights violations, activists are worried that facial recognition technology could become a tool of oppression.
The only U.S. city on the list is Los Angeles, which contains some of the country’s wealthiest neighborhoods and municipalities. That includes Beverly Hills, which according to the Los Angeles Times, has over 2,000 cameras for its population of 32,500. That translates to about 62 cameras per 1,000 people, meaning that Beverly Hills would finish at #2 in the global ranking if it were listed as a separate entity.
Surveillance in China
IHS Markit estimates that as of 2021, there are over 1 billion surveillance cameras installed worldwide. The firm also believes that 54% of these cameras are located in China.
Because of limited transparency, it’s impossible to pinpoint how many cameras are actually in each Chinese city. However, if we assume that China has 540 million cameras and divide that amongst its population of 1.46 billion, we can reasonably say that there are 373 cameras per 1,000 people (figures rounded).
A limitation of this approach is that it assumes everyone in China lives in a city, which is far from reality. The most recent World Bank figures suggest that 37% of China’s population is rural, which equates to over 500 million people.
With this in mind, the number of cameras per 1,000 people in a Tier 1+ Chinese city (e.g. Shanghai) is likely far greater than 373.
More About China
China’s expansive use of cameras and facial recognition technology has been widely documented in the media. These networks enable the country’s social credit program, which gives local governments an unprecedented amount of oversight over its citizens.
For example, China’s camera networks can be used to verify ATM withdrawals, permit access into homes, and even publicly shame people for minor offences like jaywalking.
This might sound like a dystopian nightmare to Western audiences, but according to Chinese citizens, it’s mostly a good thing. In a 2018 survey of 2,209 citizens, 80% of respondents approved of social credit systems.
If you’re interested in learning more about surveillance in Chinese cities, consider this video from The Economist, which explores the opportunities and dangers of comprehensive state control.
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