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As part of his Statistical Atlas of the United States, Superintendent of the Census Francis Walker produced, in 1874, a map that showed the distribution and density of people across the continental United States. Similar maps were produced in the 1880 and 1890 editions of the statistical atlas, and the Census Bureau itself began publishing them as part of its decennial census reports.
Census maps of population distribution paint a picture of the westward expansion and general urbanization of the United States. Population distribution maps from the mid-nineteenth century show a vast and unsettled midsection of the country that is gradually filled in as the frontier shrinks and closes entirely by 1890. Urban areas grew larger and more dense throughout the early twentieth century; by the 1950's, the population of suburbs and exurban areas becomes more pronounced, and the population of the United States begins to resemble its current distribution.
Population Distribution Maps
2000 [JPG, 107KB]
1990 [JPG, 133KB]
1970 [JPG, 139KB]
1960 [JPG, 2.0MB]
1950 [JPG, 2.5MB]
1940 [JPG, 188KB]
1930 [JPG, 2.3MB]
1920 [JPG, 1.7MB]
1910 [JPG, 2.0MB]
1900 [PDF, 1.3MB]
1890 [PDF, 8.8MB]
1880 [PDF, 4.8MB]
1870 [PDF, 9.4MB]
Following the 1880 census, Superintendent Walker and census geographer Henry Gannet released, as an introduction to the census report on the characteristics of the population, a General Discussion of the Movements of Population - 1790 to 1880. This document tracks the westward expansion of settlement in the United States since 1790, and includes state-by-state descriptions of the distribution of population over time. Also featured, in the "Progress of a Nation" section, are a series of maps showing the population density following the first ten censuses. Download PDF. [5.85 MB PDF]