Animated Map: The History of U.S. Counties Over 300 Years
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Animated Map: The History of U.S. Counties

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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.

County Equivalents

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:

YearNumber of Counties and Parishes
1790292
18501621
18702247
19002713
19203041

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.

Short-lived Counties

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.

Continual Change

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.

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Demographics

3D Map: The World’s Largest Population Density Centers

What does population density look like on a global scale? These detailed 3D renders illustrate our biggest urban areas and highlight population trends.

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global population density map

A 3D Look at the Largest Population Density Centers

It can be difficult to comprehend the true sizes of megacities, or the global spread of 8 billion people, but this series of population density maps makes the picture abundantly clear.

Created using the EU’s population density data and mapping tool Aerialod by Alasdair Rae, the 3D-rendered maps highlight demographic trends and geographic constraints.

Though they appear topographical and even resemble urban areas, the maps visualize population density in squares. The height of each bar represents the number of people living in that specific square, with the global map displaying 2km x 2km squares and subsequent maps displaying 1km x 1km squares.

Each region and country tells its own demographic story, but the largest population clusters are especially illuminating.

China vs U.S. — Clusters vs Sprawl

population density spikes around China

Click here to view the high resolution version.

Zooming into the most populated country in the world, China and its surrounding neighbors demonstrate massive clusters of urbanization.

Most people are familiar with the large density centers around Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, but the concentration in central China is surprising. The cities of Chengdu and Chonqing, in the Sichuan Basin, are part of a massive population center.

Interestingly, more than 93% of China’s population lives in the Eastern half of the country. It’s a similar story in neighboring South Korea and Taiwan, where the population is clustered along the west coasts.

population density spikes in the united states

Click here to view the high resolution version.

The U.S. also has large population clusters along the coasts, but far more sprawl compared to its Asian counterparts. Though the Boston-Washington corridor is home to over 50 million residents, major centers spread out the population across the South and the Midwest.

Clearly visible are clusters in Florida (and not exclusively focused around Miami like some might believe), Illinois, Georgia, and Texas. The population is sparse in the West as expected, but California’s Los Angeles and Bay Area metros make up for the discrepancy and are just behind New York City’s density spikes in height.

India & Southeast Asia — Massive Density in Tight Areas

population density spikes around India

Click here to view the high resolution version.

At 1.38 billion people, India’s population is just behind China’s in terms of size. However, this sizable population fits into an area just one-third of China’s total land area, with the above map demonstrating what the same amount of people looks like in a smaller region.

On one hand, you still have clear clusters, such as in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangladesh’s Dhaka. On the other, there is a finite amount of room for a massive amount of people, so those density “spikes” are more like density “peaks” with the entire country covered in high density bars.

However, we can still see geographic trends. India’s population is more densely focused in the North before fading into the Himalayas. Bangladesh is equally if not more densely populated, with the exception of the protected Sundarbans mangrove forest along the coast. And Pakistan’s population seen in the distance is clustered along the Indus River.

population density spikes in Southeast Asia

Click here to view the high resolution version.

Geographic constraints have always been the biggest deciding factor when it comes to population density, and nowhere is this more apparent than Southeast Asia.

Take Indonesia, the fourth largest country by population. Despite spanning across many islands, more than half of the country’s 269 million inhabitants are clustered on the single island of Java. The metros of Jakarta and Surabaya have experienced massive growth, but spreading that growth across oceans to entirely new islands (covered by rainforests) is a tall order.

When the distance is smaller, that cross-water growth is more likely to occur. Nearby in the Philippines, more than 100 million people have densely populated a series of islands no bigger than the state of Arizona.

Indeed, despite being one of the most populated areas in the world, each country in Southeast Asia has had its own growing problems. Some are limited by space (Singapore, Philippines), while others are limited by forests (Thailand, Vietnam).

A World of Different Density Pictures

Though the above maps cover the five most populated countries on Earth, accounting for nearly half of the world’s population, they only show a small part of the global picture.

As the full global density map at the top of the page highlights, the population patterns can accurately illustrate some geographic patterns and constraints, while others need further exploration.

For example, the map clearly gives an outline of Africa and the sparse area that makes up the Sahara Desert. At the same time, landmasses like Australia and New Zealand are almost invisible save for a few clusters along the coast.

To get a closer and more intricate picture of each country’s density map, head to Alasdair Rae’s long thread of rendered maps and start scrolling up to find yours!

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Misc

The Type of Business Every Country Wants to Start

This series of maps shows a regional breakdown of the most popular types of businesses people want to start, based on online search results.

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The Type of Business Every Country Wants to Start

View a higher resolution version of this map.

Every year, millions of new businesses are started across the world—in 2021, nearly 5.4 million new business applications were filed in the U.S. alone.

And since startups and new businesses play a significant role in shaping a country’s economic growth, encouraging entrepreneurship is vital. But what types of businesses around the world are people most interested in starting?

These maps by ZenBusiness show the most popular types of businesses that entrepreneurs in nearly every country want to start, based on analyzing relevant internet search results.

Most Searched Businesses Around the World

To source the data, ZenBusiness analyzed searches from Ahrefs, specifically looking for the term “start a business” and its equivalents in local languages as of February 2022.

They then found the relevant topic or keyword with the highest search volume, and organized the results into 11 different industries:

  • Beauty & Cosmetics
  • Food & Drink
  • Logistics & Infrastructure
  • Personal Services
  • Recycling
  • Software Development
  • Business & Financial
  • Leisure & Tourism
  • Marketing
  • Real Estate
  • Retail & E-Commerce

The data showed that the industries entrepreneurs are most attracted to vary greatly from country to country, depending on a variety of factors such as infrastructure, business climate, and culture.

Here’s a breakdown of the most searched businesses around the world, broken down by region.

Africa

Map of the most searched businesses in Africa

From cooking gas refills in South Africa to supplements in the Gambia, entrepreneurs across Africa seem to be interested in starting a wide range of businesses (at least according to their searches).

But while the results varied across the region, the most-searched industry was personal services such as cleaning, interior design, and contracting. Cleaning was especially popular, ranking first in six different African countries.

One African country worth highlighting is Morocco, where freight is the most-searched startup term across the country. This makes sense considering Morocco is home to several major ports, including the Port of Tanger Med, which is Africa’s largest port by cargo capacity.

Europe

Map of the most searched businesses in Europe

In Europe, real estate is the most-searched industry, ranking number one in seven different countries across the continent. Over the last decade, the European Union’s real estate market has boomed—between 2010 and 2021, home prices in the EU increased by 42%.

Retail is also a popular industry across Europe, with clothing-related searching taking the top spot in five different European countries.

Middle East & Central Asia

Map of the most searched businesses in the Middle East

From soap production in Uzbekistan to dropshipping in Azerbaijan, the Middle East & Central Asia have the most diverse searches compared to any other region.

One particularly interesting top search was in the United Arab Emirates, where imports and exports ranked first. The UAE’s economy is heavily reliant on trade, especially oil, which makes up 30% of the region’s GDP and 41% of public revenues.

Rest of Asia & Oceania

Map of the most searched businesses in Asia and Oceania

Asia and Oceania had an interesting mix of unique business searches. For instance, pig farming ranked number one in the Solomon Islands, and lawn moving took the top spot in New Zealand.

But generally speaking, retail was one of the most-searched-for business types across this region, with clothing taking the top spot in countries like Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

North America

Map of the most searched businesses in North America

Across North America, retail takes the top spot for most searched business type. In fact, the top searches in nearly half of the region’s countries are related to the retail or e-commerce industry.

The U.S. currently has the largest retail market in the world, although China is close on its heels. In 2021, America’s retail market was valued at over $6.5 trillion U.S. dollars.

South America

Map of the most searched businesses in South America

Food was the top searched industry across South America, ranking number one in half the countries across the region. In Brazil, sweets took the top spot, which might not be surprising considering the country is the top sugar cane producer worldwide.

Clothing was also a popular business idea, taking the top spot in five South American countries.

Which countries surprised you the most with their new business interest?

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