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This entry tracks and ranks the population of the largest cities in the United States by decade, starting with the 1790 Census. For 1790 through 1990, tables are taken from "Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990." For year 2000 rankings, data from the Census Bureau's tally of "Cities with 100,000 or More Population Ranked by Selected Subject" is used. For further research on year 2000 urban population, the County and City Data Book might be instructive.
Philadelphia had been the most populous city in the United States before any census count. When the first U.S. census count was done in 1790, New York had slightly edged Philadelphia as the most populous city in the country (though Philadelphia still had the larger metropolitan population in 1790). The source population numbers for this list come from the United States Census Bureau.
|1||New York||New York||33,131||New York ranked as the nation's most populous city at the time of the first census count.|
|2||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||28,522||Prior to 1854, the term "Philadelphia" referred to present-day Center City. The 1854 Act of Consolidation greatly expanded the City of Philadelphia to its present borders, coterminous with Philadelphia County. Philadelphia has remained on the top 10 list of largest American cities throughout its history.|
|5||Baltimore||Maryland||13,503||Existed as a township at the time. Now an independent city.|
|6||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||9,913||Township now absorbed in Philadelphia. See Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.|
|7||Salem||Massachusetts||7,921||Listed as a town in 1790 census. Presently a city.|
|8||Newport||Rhode Island||6,716||Listed as a town in 1790 census. Presently a city.|
|9||Providence||Rhode Island||6,380||Listed as a town in 1790 census. Now a city.|
|10||Marblehead||Massachusetts||5,661||Still a town as of 2006.|
|Southwark||Pennsylvania||5,661||Before 1854 Act of Consolidation, Southwark was an independent municipality; it is now a neighborhood in south South Philadelphia.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 152,087.
*Salem, Newport, and Marblehead are all far smaller than the largest 275 cities listed in List of United States cities by population in 2010, so exact ranking is unavailable.
Source data for population is available from the Census Bureau.
|1||New York||New York||60,515||82.65% higher than year 1790.|
|2||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||41,220||44.52% higher than year 1790.|
|3||Baltimore||Maryland||26,514||96.36% higher than year 1790.|
|4||Boston||Massachusetts||24,937||36.12% higher than year 1790.|
|5||Charleston||South Carolina||18,824||14.90% higher than year 1790.|
|6||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||10,718||Now a neighborhood in Philadelphia. |
8.12% higher than year 1790.
|7||Southwark||Pennsylvania||9,621||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia. |
69.95% higher than year 1790.
|8||Salem||Massachusetts||9,457||Listed as a town. Today, Salem is a city. |
19.39% higher than year 1790.
|9||Providence||Rhode Island||7,614||Last appearance in top ten. Drops to 11th by 1810. |
19.34% higher than year 1790.
|10||Norfolk||Virginia||6,926||Listed as a borough. Now an independent city.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 216,346 people.
A list of the 46 largest cities from the 1810 census is available from the Census Bureau and the source of this information.
|1||New York||New York||96,373|
|6||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||19,874||Now a neighborhood of Philadelphia.|
|7||New Orleans||Louisiana||17,242||First entry in the top 10 list not located in one of the original 13 colonies.|
|8||District of Southwark||Pennsylvania||13,707||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.|
|9||Salem||Massachusetts||12,613||Listed as a town. Today, Salem is a city.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 329,346 people.
A list of the 61 largest cities from the 1820 census is available from the Census Bureau and the source of this information.
|1||New York||New York||123,706||New York was the first city to surpass 100,000 people in population.|
|7||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||19,678||Now a neighborhood of Philadelphia.|
|8||Southwark||Pennsylvania||14,713||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||13,247||First appearance of the new capital in the top 10. Would disappear from the list by next census and not appear on top 10 till 1950.|
|10||Salem||Massachusetts||12,731||Listed as a town in 1820 census. Today, Salem is a city.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 405,869 people.
Source data for population is available from the Census Bureau.
|1||New York||New York||202,589|
|2||Baltimore||Maryland||80,620||Baltimore is the second city to rank number two.|
|7||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||28,872||Now a neighborhood in Philadelphia.|
|8||Cincinnati||Ohio||24,831||Listed as a town. First appearance on top 10 from a Midwestern state.|
|10||District of Southwark||Pennsylvania||20,581||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 599,927 people.
Source data for population is available from the Census Bureau.
|1||New York||New York||312,710|
|2||Baltimore||Maryland||102,313||Baltimore is likely the second city to surpass the 100,000 population mark.|
|3||New Orleans||Louisiana||102,193||New Orleans' rapid growth shows the increasing importance of Mississippi River trade.|
|6||Cincinnati||Ohio||46,338||Listed as a town.|
|7||Brooklyn||New York||36,233||At this time, Brooklyn was a city.|
|8||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||34,474||Now a neighborhood in Philadelphia.|
|10||Charleston||South Carolina||29,261||Charleston lost population between the 1830 and 1840 censuses. Last appearance in the top 10.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 884,291 people.
By 1850, the United States was in the midst of the First Industrial Revolution. A list of the hundred largest cities from the 1850 census is available from the Census Bureau and the source of this information.
|1||New York||New York||515,547|
|8||St. Louis||Missouri||77,860||First Top 10 appearance of any city west of the Mississippi River.|
|9||District of Spring Garden||Pennsylvania||58,894||Now a neighborhood of Philadelphia.|
|10||Albany||New York||50,763||Last appearance in the top 10.|
Total population of these 10 cities was 1,459,023 people.
|1||New York||New York||813,669|
|2||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||565,529||The large jump in population between the seventh and eighth censuses is due to the 1854 Act of Consolidation, which greatly expanded the City of Philadelphia to be coterminous with Philadelphia County, and abolished all other local governments in the county. The "Philadelphia" prior to 1854 is present-day Center City.|
|9||Chicago||Illinois||112,172||First appearance in the top 10. In the previous census, it was the 24th largest American city with a population of 29,963. Chicago would be one of the world's fastest growing cities in its infancy.|
|10||Buffalo||New York||81,129||First appearance in the top 10. Would disappear from list by next census and not re-appear until 1900.|
|1||New York||New York||942,292|
A slight drop in the rise of population due to the war.
The 1870 St. Louis Census total was boosted by fraud. 
|5||Chicago||Illinois||298,977||Census was taken one year before the Great Chicago Fire, which burned down a large portion of the city.|
|10||San Francisco||California||149,473||First west coast city in the Top 10. Its population boom began after 1848 with the Gold Rush and continuing with silver discoveries such as the Comstock Lode in 1859.|
The Census bureau provides a list of the 100 largest cities in the United States during this year.
|1||New York||New York||1,206,299||This marks the first time the population of a U.S. city exceeds 1 million.|
|4||Chicago||Illinois||503,185||Great Chicago Fire destroyed a third of the city in 1871.|
|6||St. Louis||Missouri||350,518||The city of St. Louis seceded from St. Louis County in 1876, and an investigation found that the 1870 St. Louis Census total was boosted by fraud.|
|10||New Orleans||Louisiana||216,090||Last appearance in the top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||1,515,301||This is the last census before New York was consolidated into The Five Boroughs (therefore the figure is that of New York County (which at the time consisted of Manhattan and what later would become The Bronx).|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||1,099,850||Chicago overtakes Philadelphia as the nation's second most populous city and likely becomes the second city in the nation to surpass the 1 million mark.|
|4||Brooklyn||New York||806,343||This is the last census where the City of Brooklyn is independent. It would be absorbed into New York City.|
|10||Cleveland||Ohio||261,353||First appearance in the top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||3,437,202||This is the first census after the creation of The Five Boroughs.|
|8||Buffalo||New York||352,387||Re-appearance in the top 10 (last 1860).|
|9||San Francisco||California||342,782||Last appearance in the top 10 and before the 1906 earthquake and fire.|
|10||Cincinnati||Ohio||325,902||Last appearance in the top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||4,766,883||Much of the population of New York City was in Manhattan, which reached its historical high of over 2.3 million. However, the other boroughs began to grow rapidly as the Interborough Rapid Transit system expanded.|
|8||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania||533,905||Pittsburgh entered the Top 10 after annexing the neighboring city of Allegheny in 1907. This is now the city's North Side.|
|9||Detroit||Michigan||465,766||First appearance in the top 10.|
|10||Buffalo||New York||423,715||Last appearance in the top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||5,620,048|
|4||Detroit||Michigan||993,078||The rise of the automobile industry in the Detroit area propelled its growth substantially between 1910 and 1920, doubling its population in only 10 years.|
|10||Los Angeles||California||576,673||Los Angeles makes the top ten for the first time.|
|1||New York||New York||6,930,446|
|5||Los Angeles||California||1,238,048||First West Coast city to make the Top 5.|
Four of the ten cities here would have their first ever population drop in 1940. Though slight, they would presage a precipitous decline that started in 1950. The 1940 Census was the Sixteenth. The Census Bureau provides a list of the 100 largest cities in that year.
|1||New York||New York||7,457,995|
|3||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||1,931,334||First ever population drop for Philadelphia.|
|6||Cleveland||Ohio||878,336||First ever population drop for Cleveland.|
|8||St. Louis||Missouri||816,048||First ever population drop for St. Louis.|
|9||Boston||Massachusetts||770,816||First ever population drop for Boston.|
|10||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania||671,659||Last appearance in the top 10.|
1950 was a watershed year for many cities in the United States. Many cities in the country peaked in population, and began a slow decline caused by suburbanization associated with pollution, congestion, and increased crime rates, while the improved infrastructure of the Eisenhower Interstate System more easily facilitated car commutes and so-called white flight of the middle class. The G.I. Bill made available low interest loans for returning World War II veterans seeking more commodious housing in the suburbs. Although populations within city limits dropped in many American cities, the metropolitan populations of most cities continued to increase greatly.
The source document for these numbers is available from the United States Census Bureau.
|Rank||City||State||Population||% of population lost by 2010||Notes|
|1||New York||New York||7,891,957||Gain|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||3,620,962||26||Population peaked this census.|
|3||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||2,071,605||26||Population peaked this census.|
|4||Los Angeles||California||1,970,358||Gain||Los Angeles is one of the few cities to have nearly continuous growth since 1950.|
|5||Detroit||Michigan||1,849,568||61||Population peaked. As of 2013, Detroit is the only city in the United States to have a population grow beyond 1 million and then fall below 1 million.|
|6||Baltimore||Maryland||949,708||35||Population peaked this census.|
|7||Cleveland||Ohio||914,808||57||Population peaked this census.|
|8||St. Louis||Missouri||856,796||63||Population peaked this census.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||802,178||25||Population peaked this census. Re-appearance in the top 10 (last in 1820).|
|10||Boston||Massachusetts||801,444||23||Population peaked this census. Last appearance in top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||7,781,984||First ever population drop for New York City.|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||3,550,404||First ever population drop for Chicago.|
|5||Detroit||Michigan||1,670,144||First ever population drop for Detroit.|
|7||Houston||Texas||938,219||First appearance in the top 10 and first Texas city.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||763,956|
|10||St. Louis||Missouri||750,026||Last appearance in the top 10. First time the population of the 10th largest city is less than the decade before.|
|1||New York||New York||7,894,862|
|6||Houston||Texas||1,232,802||Sixth city in the US to surpass 1 million.|
|8||Dallas||Texas||844,401||First appearance in top 10.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||756,510||Last appearance on top 10.|
|10||Cleveland||Ohio||750,903||Last appearance on top 10. Cleveland is notably smaller by population and larger by area, therefore less dense than it was in 1920.|
By 1980, the trends towards suburbanization started in the 1950s continued. City population continues to grow in the west and south.
For a more complete ranking, see the source material from the Census Bureau.
|1||New York||New York||7,071,639||New York City experiences the largest loss of people within a city in American history when it loses nearly 900,000 people in only a ten-year span. The city experienced severe financial strains and near bankruptcy of the local government during the 1970s until it was bailed out by the federal government.|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||3,005,072||Chicago for the last time ranked the second most populous city.|
|8||San Diego||California||875,538||First appearance in the top 10.|
|9||Phoenix||Arizona||789,704||First appearance in the top 10.|
|10||Baltimore||Maryland||786,775||Last appearance in the top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||7,322,564||New York City gained population during the 1980s after heavy losses in the 1970s.|
|2||Los Angeles||California||3,485,398||Los Angeles becomes the nation's second largest city.|
|4||Houston||Texas||1,630,553||Houston jumps just slightly ahead of Philadelphia, becoming the nation's fourth largest city.|
|6||San Diego||California||1,110,549||San Diego is the 2nd California city to pass the 1 million mark.|
|8||Dallas||Texas||1,006,877||Dallas is the 2nd city in Texas to pass the 1 million mark.|
|10||San Antonio||Texas||935,933||First appearance in top 10.|
|1||New York||New York||8,008,278||Surpasses 8 million for the first time.|
|2||Los Angeles||California||3,694,820||Los Angeles surpasses Chicago's peak population, but growth is noticeably slower than previous decades.|
|3||Chicago||Illinois||2,896,016||Chicago gained population during the 1990s.|
|6||Phoenix||Arizona||1,321,045||First city in Arizona to surpass 1 million.|
|9||San Antonio||Texas||1,144,646||San Antonio is the 3rd city in Texas to surpass the 1 million mark.|
|10||Detroit||Michigan||951,270||Detroit's last appearance in the top 10, ranked #18 in 2010 census.|
The United States has dozens of major cities. It also has 33 of the world's 178 global cities, with 10 American cities in the highest ranked category of "Alpha" global city: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Miami, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.
The figures below are for populations within the city limits, which are of various sizes for each city. Not included are the population of suburban areas. Notable is that seven of the country's ten largest cities are located in the Sun Belt region of the south and west, all of which have far lower population density their earlier top-ranking counterparts. A different ranking is evident when considering U.S. metro area populations which count both city and suburban populations. The ten most populous cities, are based on the 2010 census data.
|1||New York||New York||8,175,133|
|3||Chicago||Illinois||2,695,598||Population loss after gain in 2000 census|
|4||Houston||Texas||2,099,451||First city in Texas to surpass the 2 million mark|
|5||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||1,526,006||First population gain since 1950|
|10||San Jose||California||945,942||First appearance in top 10|
For a more extensive list of present population estimates see List of United States cities by population.