Big Cities, 1860 Edition

I just came across the 1860 census. Fascinating.

With just over 800,000 people, our biggest city was New York. Philadelphia was second with just over a half-million. Third? Brooklyn, not yet part of New York, followed by Baltimore and Boston.

New Orleans was the sixth largest city, about the size of Cincinnati and St. Louis.

Surprises?  Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Troy, Utica–the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, so this was high time for upstate New York. Also, Newark (NJ) as our eleventh largest city, on par with Washington, D.C., Detroit, Cleveland, Charleston (South Carolina), Hartford (CT). None of these cities were larger than 100,000; in fact, most of them were smaller than 50,000. Newark was home to 72,000 people–about the size of a modest suburb today.

Only one city on the list was west of the Mississippi: San Francisco. Population, just over 50,000, or about the size of Pittsburgh (then, Pittsburg), PA.

If you feel like exploring, visit: http://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/hiscendata.html

Smaller than I thought

Just out of curiosity, I decided to explore the list of top U.S. newspapers by circulation.

Some things that I found interesting:

1. The top newspaper in the USA is not a general interest paper. It’s the Wall Street Journal, with a circulation of about 2 million.

2. The second largest paper is USA Today, and the third is The New York Times.

3. The daily circulation of The New York Times roughly equals the population of Rhode Island–just about 1 million people. On Sundays, the Times circulation equals the number of people in Idaho (1.3 million). And the NY Times is the biggest local paper in the USA.

4. Other big papers in the USA include The Washington Post, The Daily News (NYC), Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times. Each is around the half million mark–roughly, the population of  our least-populous state, Wyoming.

Before this end-of-journalism web madness began, daily New York Times circulation was about 1.1 million in 1998. Not much of a change from today’s 1 million. In 1990–years before the internet’s introduction–The Daily News peaked around 2.3 million per day, but by 1990, circulation was down to 1.2 million, and now, it’s about half that amount. Based upon various conflicting, but helpful, sources, I believe newspaper circulation is down by around 1/3 since 1990–but that’s two decades ago, certainly plenty of time to reinvent an industry. In Chicago, that means 1 in 9 households gets a paper (either Sun-Times or Trib) every weekday. I’m curious whether that number was, say, 1 in 5 around 1960, or maybe even 1 in 3 around 1940. I’ll do some research on those details, and get back to you.

Regardless of the specific numbers, the trends are no secret. It’s clear that the music and newspaper industries made their technology decisions late in the game, limiting their options, struggling with their status quo for too long, allowing competitors to dominate. And, it’s pretty clear that the internet is a better way to deliver news than, say, newsboys standing on street corners. I wonder whether we still need print editions. And I wonder just how much energy, and paper, we spend printing, trucking and recycling millions of newspapers every day of the week. And on Sundays.

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