Animated Video: The History of U.S Counties
Did you know that there are 3,142 different counties in the U.S. today?
Going as far back as the 1600s, English settlers arriving in the New World envisioned counties as a means of accessible government—a county seat was meant to be within a day’s buggy ride for every citizen.
While the role of counties in local government has remained significant in modern times, their boundaries have changed drastically over the years.
This animated map by Alexander Varlamov visualizes the history of U.S. county borders, and how these jurisdictions have evolved over time.
Before diving in, it’s important to note a few county-equivalents that function similarly but go by different names:
- Boroughs/Census areas: Alaska is made up of 19 boroughs, but the majority of its landmass is not included in them. Rather, it’s officially labeled by the Alaskan government as the unorganized borough.
- Parishes: Instead of counties, Louisiana uses the term parishes because of its French and Catholic heritage.
- Independent cities: These are cities that operate outside their surrounding county’s jurisdiction. There are 41 independent cities in the U.S. and 38 of them are in Virginia.
Over 300 Years of Growth
The number of counties in the U.S. has increased dramatically since the early days of American history. Here’s a look at their growth since 1790:
|Year||Number of Counties and Parishes|
The first county was established in 1634, over 100 years before the first Census was taken (and long before America gained independence). It was created in James City, Virginia—an interesting location, considering Virginia now has the highest concentration of independent cities.
Why does Virginia have so many independent cities? The state’s separation of counties and cities dates back to the early 1700s. With a rural population and low productivity, it was difficult to establish town centers. After several attempts, the General Assembly gave up. Independent cities were established instead.
Counties as a political organization have been around for hundreds of years, but some individual counties haven’t lasted long.
For instance, Bullfrog County in Nevada was established in 1987 and dissolved just two years later. During its brief existence, it had no population and no infrastructure—and its primary purpose was simply to prevent Yucca Mountain from becoming a nuclear waste dump.
While Bullfrog County has since been dissolved, the controversy around the nuclear waste site is ongoing as of 2020.
The latest official county, Broomfield Country, was established in Colorado in 2001.
Although it’s been decades since the last county was created, there have been continual boundary changes and status updates—sometimes for political reasons. For instance, the Supreme Court recently ruled that half of Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation. While this doesn’t necessarily change ownership, it does affect jurisdiction and county authority.
Though the lines on the map are more or less static now, the invisible lines of county jurisdiction will continue to change and evolve over time.
The 50 Highest Cities in the World
Where are the world’s highest cities? This graphic ranks the world’s major urban centers by altitude above sea level.
Where Are The World’s Highest Cities?
When comparing the world’s cities to one another, we often use defining characteristics—largest, greenest, most visited, highest-earning, the list goes on.
Yet elevation is often overlooked, despite the fact that thousands of cities across the globe are nestled in highlands, plateaus, and mountain ranges.
Today’s graphic looks at the top 50 highest cities worldwide, and compares their altitudes to well-known references (the differences are dizzying).
Cities in the Sky
When ranking the world’s highest cities, we specifically looked at major urban centers with a population of one million or more inhabitants, with an elevation “floor” of 1,000m.
Though you might expect less important cities to make the rankings, 22 out of the 50 highest cities are actually national capitals.
|Rank||Urban Center||Country||Region||Average Elevation (m)|
|#1||La Paz||Bolivia||South America||3,869|
|#6||Addis Ababa||Ethiopia||Eastern Africa||2,361|
|#7||Mexico City||Mexico||Central America||2,316|
|#12||San Luis Potosí||Mexico||Central America||1,873|
|#16||Denver||United States||Northern America||1,673|
|#18||Johannesburg||South Africa||Southern Africa||1,624|
|#26||Guatemala City||Guatemala||Central America||1,463|
|#28||Pretoria||South Africa||Southern Africa||1,365|
|#34||Lubumbashi||Democratic Republic of the Congo||Middle Africa||1,252|
|#39||Ciudad Juárez||Mexico||Central America||1,164|
|#40||Beni||Democratic Republic of the Congo||Middle Africa||1,149|
|#42||San José||Costa Rica||Central America||1,129|
At the top of the pantheon is Bolivia’s El Alto-La Paz metropolitan area, which houses more than two million people at an average elevation of 3,869m above sea level. That’s a city of two million people situated more than 100 meters higher than Mount Fuji in Japan.
The next four are more than 1,000m lower than El Alto-La Paz, with Ecuador’s capital Quito coming in at second place at 2,784m and Colombia’s capital Bogotá rounding out the top five at 2,601m. For reference, that’s more than 100 meters higher than the world-famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu in Peru, which sits at a height of 2,430m.
It’s notable just how mountainous Latin America is. Of the 10 highest cities, three are in Mexico’s many mountainous regions and four of the top five are adjacent to the Andes Mountains.
Asia and the Americas Tower Above
Though it might be expected that countries would have their population centers close to sea level, many instead have followed in the footsteps of past civilizations by building in higher regions.
In addition to many capitals in South America, that list of major cities includes Mexico City, easily the largest on the list as the world’s 8th largest metropolis, Addis Ababa, the capital and largest city in Ethiopia, Tehran, the capital of Iran and most populous city in Western Asia, and Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
The countries with the most high cities were China and Mexico, with eight each. China specifically had the most high metropolises in Asia, and many of the world’s highest settlements, though most of its major cities lie outside the Tibetan and Mongolian Plateaus.
|Regional Breakdown of Top 50 Highest Cities|
As the table above highlights, while wide mountainous regions are concentrated in much of Asia, Latin America, and Africa, the Western world is largely located close to the water.
The West Sits Below
The U.S. and Canada each only had one city each crack the top 50 list: the Rocky Mountain-adjacent cities of Denver and Calgary.
Meanwhile, despite the European Alps stretching across eight countries and both Australia and New Zealand having many mountains tall enough to crack the list, both Europe and Oceania had no major city situated more than 1,000m above sea level.
But though most of humanity remains concentrated near sea level, it is impressive to remember that hundreds of millions of people live in cities higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s highest tower.
In fact, studies have shown that living at higher altitudes has associated health benefits, including better cardiovascular health and lower incidence of stroke and cancer.
Regardless if future trends push more people thousands of meters into the sky, humanity has proven that it can prosper.
Cocoa: A Bittersweet Supply Chain
The cocoa supply chain is a bittersweet one. While chocolate is a beloved sweet treat globally, many cocoa farmers are living a bitter reality.
Cocoa: A Bittersweet Supply Chain
From bean to bar, the cocoa supply chain is a bittersweet one. While the end product is something most of us enjoy, this also comes with a human cost.
Based on how much cocoa comes from West Africa, it’s likely that most of the chocolates we eat have a little bit of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in them. The $130B chocolate industry relies on cocoa farming for supply of chocolate’s key ingredient. Yet, many cocoa farmers make less than $1/day.
The above graphic maps the major trade flows of cocoa and allows us to dive deeper into its global supply chain.
From Bean to Bar: Stages in the Cocoa Supply Chain
Cocoa beans go through a number of stages before being used in chocolate products.
- Harvesting, Fermenting, and Drying
First, farmers harvest cocoa beans from pods on cacao plants. Next, they are fermented in heaps and covered with banana leaves. Farmers then dry and package the cocoa beans for domestic transportation.
- Domestic Transportation, Cleaning, and Exporting
Domestic transporters carry packaged cocoa beans to either cleaning warehouses or processing factories. Cocoa beans are cleaned and prepared for exports to the chocolate production hubs of the world.
- Processing and Chocolate Production
Processing companies winnow, roast, and grind cocoa beans and then convert them into cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, or cocoa cakes—which are mixed with other ingredients like sugar and milk to produce chocolate products.
Cocoa farming and trade are at the roots of the chocolate industry, and the consistent supply of cocoa plays a critical role in providing us with reasonably-priced chocolate.
So where exactly does all this cocoa come from?
The Key Nations in Cocoa’s Global Supply Chain
Growing cocoa has specific temperature, water, and humidity requirements. As a result, the equatorial regions of Africa, Central and South America, and Asia are optimal for cocoa farming.
These regions host the biggest cocoa exporters by value.
|Rank (2019)||Exporting Country||Value (US$, millions)|
|1||Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮||$3,575|
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are responsible for 70% of global cocoa production, and cocoa exports play a huge role in their economies. Although the majority of exporters come from equatorial regions, Belgium stands out in fifth place.
On the other hand, most of the top importers are in Europe—the Netherlands and Germany being the top two.
|Rank (2019)||Importing Country||Value (US$, millions)|
In third place, the U.S. primarily sources its cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Ecuador. Mars, Hershey, Cargill, and Blommer—some of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers and processors—are headquartered in the U.S.
Finally, it comes as no surprise that the biggest importers of cocoa beans are among the biggest chocolate exporters.
|Rank (2019)||Country||Value of Chocolate Exports
Not only is the Netherlands the biggest importer of beans, but it’s also the biggest processor—grinding 600,000 tons annually—and the fourth largest exporter of chocolate products.
Belgium is another key nation in the supply chain, importing cocoa beans from producing countries and exporting them across Europe. It’s also home to the world’s largest chocolate factory, supporting its annual chocolate exports worth $3.1 billion.
Breaking Down the Cocoa Supply Chain: Who Gets What
Without farmers, both the cocoa and chocolate industries are likely to suffer from shortages, with domino effects on higher overall costs. Yet, they have little ability to influence prices at present.
Farmers are among the lowest earners from a tonne of sold cocoa—accounting for just 6.6% of the value of the final sale.
Low incomes also translate into numerous other issues associated with cocoa farming.
The Bitter Side of Cocoa Farming
The World Bank has established the threshold for extreme poverty at $1.90/day. Cocoa farmers in Ghana make $1/day, while those in Côte d’Ivoire make around $0.78/day—both significantly below the extreme poverty line.
Farmers are often unable to bear the costs of cocoa farming as a result of low incomes. In turn, they employ children, who miss out on education, are exposed to hazardous working conditions, and get paid little or no wages.
|Country||Cocoa Farmers Making $1/day or less||Children in Cocoa Agriculture|
|Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮||600,000||891,500|
To make matters worse, cocoa farming is primarily responsible for deforestation and illegal farming in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana—adding environmental issues to the mix.
These interconnected problems call for action, so what is being done to fight them?
Combating Cocoa’s Concerns
Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey—some of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers—have made several pledges to eradicate child labor in cocoa farming over the last two decades, but haven’t reached their targets.
In addition, organizations such as UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade are working to increase traceability in the supply chain by selling ‘certified cocoa’, sourced from farms that prohibit child labor.
More recently, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana announced a fixed premium of US$400/tonne on cocoa futures, aiming to improve farmer livelihoods by creating a union for cocoa, also known colloquially as the “COPEC” for the industry.
While these initiatives have had some positive impacts, more still needs to be done to successfully eradicate large-scale child labor and poverty of those involved in cocoa’s bittersweet supply chain.
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