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The United States’ Exploding Population Growth Over 200 Years (1790 – 2010)

Compared to many other countries, the U.S. is relatively young. Despite this, it holds the third position in terms of population, trailing only behind China and India. How did the nation manage to increase its population density from a mere 6.1 people per square mile in 1800 to 93 per square mile today, all in a span of just over 200 years? The map above illustrates the growth in population density from 1790 to 2010, using data derived from 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 visualisation of westward expansion from the point of view of the settlers.

As Desjardins points out, in the late 1800s, Oklahoma was depicted as a conspicuous "blank spot" on maps, lightly shaded with its borders marked by dark brown. This is because it was originally designated as Indian Territory. However, in 1889, the land was opened up for a huge land rush, with around 50,000 pioneers vying to claim a piece of the two million acres available for settlement. Many of the area's inhabitants had already been displaced from their land during the tragic "Trail of Tears" over preceding decades. The question of who precisely should be counted as a full citizen arises in the comments on Visual Capitalist's post, highlighting another important aspect to consider when interpreting this data accurately.

The ways in which people have been classified reflect contemporary biases, political viewpoints, and legal and social prejudices. These attitudes are not incidental to the nation's settlement, but are deeply ingrained in its development. Despite the apparent vast and uneven spread of population across the expanding country, it's important to recognize that this does not signify a unified surge of growth and progress. The historical reality is far more complex.

Among the numerous questions we can pose about this data, one of the most pertinent is: "Who was considered a complete American during each era, and what were the reasons behind these determinations?" This question holds relevance both in 1790 and in the present day. Alternatively, if you prefer a visual representation, you can watch the map gradually fill with sepia and burnt umber pixels, accompanied by a martial-sounding drum & bass soundtrack in the video above.



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