A Visualization of the United States’ Exploding Population Growth Over 200 Years (1790 – 2010)

The U.S. is bare­ly even an ado­les­cent com­pared to many oth­er coun­tries around the world. Yet it ranks third, behind Chi­na and India, in pop­u­la­tion. How did the coun­try go, in a lit­tle over 200 years, from 6.1 peo­ple per square mile in 1800 to 93 per square mile today? We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured maps of how the real estate came on the mar­ket. And we’ve brought you a map that tells the loca­tions and sto­ries of the peo­ples who used to live there. The map above takes a dif­fer­ent approach, show­ing pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty growth from 1790 to 2010, in num­bers based on Cen­sus records.

Orig­i­nal­ly appear­ing on Vivid Maps, the ani­mat­ed time­line con­tains no infor­ma­tion about the how, who, or why of things. But we know that since it only accounts for those who were count­ed, the num­bers of peo­ple actu­al­ly liv­ing with­in the bor­ders is often much high­er. “Not only did the pop­u­la­tion boom as a result of births and immi­grants,” writes Jeff Des­jardins at the site Visu­al Cap­i­tal­ist, “but the bor­ders of the coun­try kept chang­ing as well.” This change, and the fact that indige­nous peo­ple were not record­ed, leads to an inter­est­ing visu­al­iza­tion of west­ward expan­sion from the point of view of the set­tlers.

As Des­jardins notes, the state of Okla­homa appears as an “emp­ty gap” on the map in the late-1800s, light­ly shad­ed while its bor­ders are sur­round­ed by dark brown. This is because “the area was orig­i­nal­ly des­ig­nat­ed as Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry…. How­ev­er, in 1889, the land was opened up to a mas­sive land rush, and approx­i­mate­ly 50,000 pio­neers lined up to grab a piece of the two mil­lion acres opened for set­tle­ment.” Thou­sands of the peo­ple liv­ing there had already, of course, been pushed off their land dur­ing the decades-long “Trail of Tears.” The ques­tion of who “exact­ly is count­ed as a whole per­son?” comes up in the com­ments on Visu­al Cap­i­tal­ist post, anoth­er key con­sid­er­a­tion for under­stand­ing this data in its prop­er con­text.

The ways peo­ple have been cat­e­go­rized are prod­ucts of con­tem­po­rary bias­es, polit­i­cal atti­tudes, and legal and social dis­crim­i­na­tions. These atti­tudes are not inci­den­tal to the pop­u­lat­ing of the coun­try, but mate­ri­al­ly inte­gral. As we see the mas­sive, yet huge­ly uneven, spread of peo­ple across the expand­ing coun­try, we might be giv­en the impres­sion that it con­sti­tutes a uni­fied surge of expan­sion and devel­op­ment, when the his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty, of course, is any­thing but. Of the many ques­tions we can ask of this data, “who ful­ly count­ed as an Amer­i­can dur­ing each of these peri­ods and why or why not?” might be one of the most rel­e­vant, in 1790 and today. Or, if you’d rather just watch the map fill up with sepia and burnt umber pix­els, to the tune of some mar­tial-sound­ing drum & bass, watch the video above.

via Visu­al Cap­i­tal­ist

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

Inter­ac­tive Map Shows the Seizure of Over 1.5 Bil­lion Acres of Native Amer­i­can Land Between 1776 and 1887

A Rad­i­cal Map Puts the Oceans–Not Land–at the Cen­ter of Plan­et Earth (1942)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Tyson Bender says:

    Yaki­ma Coun­ty like a motha!!!

  • Chris Corrigan says:

    This is a mas­sive­ly prob­lem­at­ic map. It’s so bad I would say that it is racist.

    It por­trays the Unit­ed States as pre­dom­i­nant­ly emp­ty because it is only based on cen­sus records and not actu­al humans. This per­pet­u­ates the Ter­ra Nullis the­o­ry of con­quest which is racist in its era­sure Of indige­nous peo­ple, laws and insti­tu­tions that pre exist­ed AND co exist­ed with set­tle­ment and slav­ery.

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