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Center of U.S. Population Remains in Missouri Five Decades in a Row as Westward Growth Slows

America Counts Staff

According to the 2020 Census, a tiny town in south central Missouri now has the unique distinction of being the center of the nation’s population.

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Hartville (pop. 594) in south central Missouri’s Wright County is the center of population in the United States.

“It's a great feeling to live in Hartville. It has always been a town with a big heart and is now the heart of America.”

— Hartville Mayor Rob Tucker

The exact location is +37.415725, -092.346525, 15 miles northeast of Hartville, the nearest town.

The center of population, a calculation made every 10 years after the census, illustrates population shifts over the decades from westward expansion to southern migration. The center has been in Missouri for the past five decades.

Hartville Celebration

An event will be held in the spring of 2022 in recognition of Hartville as the center of population of the United States.

Hartville Mayor Rob Tucker was excited to hear his town named as the 2020 Center of Population: “It's a great feeling to live in Hartville. It has always been a town with a big heart and is now the heart of America."

Wright County was founded on Jan. 29, 1841. A large portion of the town was destroyed during the Civil War in the 1863 Battle of Hartville, with both Union and Confederate forces claiming victory. The town commemorates the battle and has a cemetery of those who fought and died there.

“The movement of the center of population helps tell the story of our nation’s history,” said Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau. “It helps visualize population shifts every 10 years and where people live in our diverse nation, and Hartville is understandably proud to be noted. The city has a rich history and the honor of being named the center of the U.S. population is yet another chapter in its long history.”

As the 2020 center of the U.S. population, Hartville adds a new chapter to its rich history.

How Do We Know Where the Population Center Is?

Every decade since the first census in 1790, the Census Bureau has used data from each decennial census to calculate the center of population — the point where the country would balance perfectly on a flat map if everyone had the same weight of one.

In addition to a national center of population, the Census Bureau also calculates centers of population for each state, county, census tract and census block group. Coordinates for each of these locations can be found on the Centers of Population webpage.

 

 

In 2020, the 10 states whose population centers moved the farthest from 2010 were:

  1. North Dakota (6.4 miles)
  2. Arkansas (5.1 miles)
  3. Nebraska (4.9 miles)
  4. South Dakota (4.4 miles)
  5. West Virginia (3.8 miles)
  6. Kansas (3.1 miles)
  7. Alaska (3.0 miles)
  8. Louisiana (2.8 miles)
  9. Maine (2.6 miles)
  10. New York (2.6 miles)

For a complete list of the centers of population for the 50 states and the District of Columbia, visit the Centers of Population press kit.

Shifts Through the Decades

The first center of population was east of Baltimore, near Chestertown, Md. Over the next 230 years, it moved steadily westward as the nation expanded.

Since 1960, the center of population began to tilt southwestward as immigration from Mexico increased and people within the United States began moving to Sun Belt states in larger numbers.

Following the movement of the national centers of population is a great way to trace the collective movement of the population in the 50 states (or 48 continuous states for calculations made prior to 1960) since the nation’s founding.

In colonial days, the country’s population was concentrated along the Atlantic Coast and has steadily expanded as people pushed through the Appalachian Mountains, across the Mississippi River and over western frontiers to reach the Pacific.

The farthest leap in miles came between 1850 and 1860 — a shift of 103 miles. Pioneers traveling on the Oregon Trail, homesteaders moving into the Oklahoma Territory and the Gold Rush to California together moved the population westward.

Immigration has played a key role in the movement of the center of population.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, more than 14.5 million immigrants poured into the east coast from Europe. As a result, the slowest movement of the center of population occurred between 1910 and 1920 when it shifted just 10 miles west.  

The historical events that pulled the center of population westward through history are highlighted in this America Counts story and graphic.

 

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Census.gov > Topics > Population

The U.S. Census Bureau is the leading source of statistical information about the nation’s people. Our population statistics come from decennial censuses, which count the entire U.S. population every ten years, along with several other surveys.

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