This list tracks and ranks the population of the top 10 largest cities and other urban places in the United States by decade, as reported by each decennial United States Census, starting with the 1790 Census. For 1790 through 1990, tables are taken from the U.S Census Bureau's "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. The 2010 rankings are based on the 2010 census results.
The Census Bureau's definition of an "urban place" has included a variety of designations, including city, town, township, village, borough, and municipality. The top 10 urban areas in 1790 consisted of various places designated as cities, towns and townships. The top 10 urban areas in 2010 are all separate incorporated places.
This list generally refers only to the population of individual urban places within their defined limits at the time of the indicated census. Some of these places have since been annexed or merged into other cities. Other places may have expanded their borders due to such annexation or consolidation. For example, after the 1898 consolidation of New York City, the Census Bureau has defined all the boroughs within its city limits as one "urban place". Similarly, Philadelphia's population has included the census counts within both the former urban areas of Northern Liberties, Pennsylvania and Southwark, Pennsylvania ever since Philadelphia's 1854 consolidation.
When the United States first became a country in 1776, Philadelphia was its most populous city. By the time the first U.S. census count was completed in 1790, New York City had already grown to be 14% more populous than Philadelphia (though Philadelphia still had the larger metropolitan population in 1790). Note that, in 1790, New York City consisted solely of Manhattan, and that Philadelphia did not include Northern Liberties, which is now within its city limits.
|1||New York||New York||33,131||New York has ranked as the city with the highest population in every census count.[a]|
|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.|
|3||Boston||Massachusetts||18,320||Listed as a town in the 1790 census; presently a city.|
|5||Baltimore||Maryland||13,503||Existed as a town 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 the 1790 census; presently a city.|
|8||Newport||Rhode Island||6,716||Listed as a town in the 1790 census; presently a city. Only appearance in the top 10.|
|9||Providence||Rhode Island||6,380||Listed as a town in the 1790 census; presently a city.|
|10||Marblehead||Massachusetts||5,661||Still a town as of 2014. Only appearance in the top 10.|
|Southwark||Pennsylvania||5,661||Before the 1854 Act of Consolidation, Southwark was an independent municipality; it is now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.|
The total population of these 11 cities was 152,087.
|1||New York||New York||60,514|
|4||Boston||Massachusetts||24,937||Listed as a town.|
|6||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||10,718||Now a neighborhood in Philadelphia.|
|7||Southwark||Pennsylvania||9,621||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.|
|8||Salem||Massachusetts||9,457||Listed as a town. Today, Salem is a city.|
|9||Providence||Rhode Island||7,614||Listed as a town. Last appearance in the top 10.|
|10||Norfolk||Virginia||6,926||Only appearance in the top 10, and only appearance of a city in Virginia in the top 10. Listed as a borough. Now an independent city.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 216,346.
|1||New York||New York||96,373|
|6||Northern Liberties||Pennsylvania||19,874||Now a neighborhood of Philadelphia.|
|7||New Orleans||Territory of Orleans||17,242||First entry in the top 10 list not located in one of the original Thirteen Colonies.|
|8||Southwark||Pennsylvania||13,707||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.|
|9||Salem||Massachusetts||12,613||Listed as a town.|
|10||Albany||New York||10,762||First appearance in the top 10, and first city in Upstate New York to make the top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 329,346.
|1||New York||New York||123,706||First city in the US to surpass 100,000.|
|5||New Orleans||Louisiana||27,176||Booming trade post bought through the Louisiana Purchase.|
|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 reappear on top 10 until 1950.|
|10||Salem||Massachusetts||12,731||Last appearance in the top 10. Listed as a town.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 405,869.
|1||New York||New York||202,300||First city in the US to surpass 200,000.|
|2||Baltimore||Maryland||80,800||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||Southwark||Pennsylvania||20,581||Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia. Last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 599,927.
|1||New York||New York||312,710||First city in the US to surpass 300,000.|
|3||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. Last appearance in top 10.|
|10||Charleston||South Carolina||29,261||Last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 884,291.
By 1850, the United States was in the midst of the First Industrial Revolution.
|1||New York||New York||515,547||First city in the US to surpass 500,000.|
|8||St. Louis||Missouri||77,860||First Top 10 appearance of any city west of the Mississippi River.|
|9||Spring Garden||Pennsylvania||58,894||Now a neighborhood of Philadelphia. Only appearance in the top 10. Last census where Spring Gardens was an independent city.|
|10||Albany||New York||50,763||Last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 1,459,023.
|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 top 10. In the previous census, it was the 24th largest American city with a population of 29,963. At one point, Chicago would be the world's fastest growing city.|
|10||Buffalo||New York||81,129||First appearance in top 10. Would not re-appear until 1900.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 2,719,910.
This was the ninth United States Census. This is the first census where the Northeast does not hold a simple majority of the top ten largest cities (briefly returns to 5 top cities in the 1910 Census).
|1||New York||New York||942,292||Included present day Manhattan only.|
The 1870 St. Louis Census total may have been slightly boosted by fraud.[b]
|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 top 10. Its population boom began after 1848 with the Gold Rush and continued with silver discoveries such as the Comstock Lode in 1859.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 3,697,264.
|1||New York||New York||1,206,299||First city in the US to reach 1 million.Included present day Manhattan and Bronx only.|
|4||Chicago||Illinois||503,185||Great Chicago Fire destroyed approximately one-third of the city in 1871, yet the city still experienced extreme growth by this census count.|
|6||St. Louis||Missouri||350,518||The city of St. Louis seceded from St. Louis County in 1876.[b] The population of St. Louis City and St. Louis County during the Census was ~386,000|
|10||New Orleans||Louisiana||216,090||Last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 4,874,175.
The 1890 Census was the Eleventh.
|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||1,109,850||Second city in the US to reach 1 million. 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.|
|3||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||1,046,964||Third city in the US to reach 1 million|
|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 top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 6,660,402.
The 1900 Census was the Twelfth.
|1||New York||New York||3,437,202||First city in the US to surpass 3 million residents. This is the first census after the creation of the Five Boroughs.|
|8||Buffalo||New York||352,387||First appearance since 1860.|
|9||San Francisco||California||342,782||Last appearance in top 10. Last census before earthquake and fire.|
|10||Cincinnati||Ohio||325,902||Last appearance in the top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 9,487,400.
The 1910 Census was the Thirteenth.
|1||New York||New York||4,766,883||Manhattan reached its historical high of over 2.3 million and Brooklyn had 1,634,351. However, the other three boroughs began to grow rapidly as the Interborough Rapid Transit system expanded.|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||2,185,283||Second city in the U.S. to reach 2 million.|
|8||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania||533,905||First appearance in top 10.|
|9||Detroit||Michigan||465,766||First appearance in top 10.|
|10||Buffalo||New York||423,715||Last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 12,401,322.
The 1920 Census was the Fourteenth.
|1||New York||New York||5,620,048||First and only city in the US to surpass 5 million. Brooklyn passes 2 million with 2,018,356|
|4||Detroit||Michigan||993,069||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.|
|5||Cleveland||Ohio||796,841||Only census where Cleveland makes the top 5.|
|10||Los Angeles||California||576,673||First appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 15,355,250.
The 1930 Census was the Fifteenth.
|1||New York||New York||6,930,446||Brooklyn accounts for 2,560,401 of this total.|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||3,376,438||Second city in the U.S. to surpass 3 million.|
|5||Los Angeles||California||1,238,048||First West Coast city to make the top 5 and to surpass 1 million.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 19,042,823.
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.
|1||New York||New York||7,457,995||First city in the US to surpass 7 million.|
|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 top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 19,909,825.
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 in inner cities, while the improved infrastructure of the Eisenhower Interstate System more easily facilitated car commutes and so-called white flight of the white 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.
|1||New York||New York||7,891,957||Brooklyn accounts for 2,738,175 of this total and Queens 1,550,849|
|2||Chicago||Illinois||3,620,962||Population peaked this census.|
|3||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||2,071,605||Population peaked this census.|
|4||Los Angeles||California||1,970,358||Los Angeles is one of the few cities to have nearly continuous growth since 1950.|
|5||Detroit||Michigan||1,849,568||Population peaked this census. To date, Detroit is the only city in the United States to have a population grow beyond 1 million and then fall below that figure.|
|6||Baltimore||Maryland||949,708||Population peaked this census.|
|7||Cleveland||Ohio||944,808||Population peaked this census.|
|8||St. Louis||Missouri||896,796||Population peaked this census.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||812,178||Population peaked this census. Re-appearance in the top 10 (last in 1820).|
|10||Boston||Massachusetts||801,444||Population peaked this census. Last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 21,809,384.
The 1960 Census was the Eighteenth. This was the first census (see also 1980) to show a decline in the combined total population of top ten cities, with 766,495 (3.5%) fewer people than 1950 Census' top ten cities.
|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.|
|3||Los Angeles||California||2,479,015||Los Angeles overtakes Philadelphia to become the nation's third-largest city.|
|4||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||2,002,512||After 60 years as the nation's third-largest city, Philadelphia drops to the fourth spot on the list.|
|5||Detroit||Michigan||1,670,144||First ever population drop for Detroit.|
|6||Houston||Texas||938,219||First appearance in the top 10.|
|7||Baltimore||Maryland||929,024||First ever population drop for Baltimore.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||783,956||First ever population drop for Washington.|
|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.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 20,982,889.
The 1970 Census was the Nineteenth.
|1||New York||New York||7,894,862|
|6||Houston||Texas||1,232,802||Sixth city in the U.S. (and first city in Texas) to surpass 1 million.|
|8||Dallas||Texas||844,401||First appearance in the top 10.|
|9||Washington||District of Columbia||756,510||Last appearance in the top 10.|
|10||Cleveland||Ohio||750,903||Last appearance in the top 10. Cleveland is notably less dense in this census than in 1920.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 22,028,346.
By 1980, the trends towards suburbanization started in the 1950s continued. This was the second census (see also 1960) to show a decline in the combined total population of the top ten cities, with 1,142,003 (5.2%) fewer people than the 1970 Census' top ten cities. This is the first census in which half of the top ten cities are in the Sun Belt, specifically the West South Central and South Western area of the country.
|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 approximately 823,000 people in only a ten-year span. The city government experienced severe financial strains and near bankruptcy during the 1970s, until it was bailed out by the federal government.|
|5||Houston||Texas||1,595,138||Houston becomes the first (and to date, the only) Texas city to reach the top 5.|
|8||San Diego||California||875,538||First appearance in the top 10.|
|9||Phoenix||Arizona||789,704||First appearance in the top 10. First (and to date, the only) city in the Mountain West to reach the top 10.|
|10||Baltimore||Maryland||786,775||Last appearance in the top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 20,886,343.
The 1990 Census was the Twenty-first. Continued trends of western cities' growth and Northeastern cities' contraction now place a majority of the top ten cities in the western portion of the Sun Belt, a regional concentration not seen since Northeastern cities dominated the top of the first seven censuses.
|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.|
|3||Chicago||Illinois||2,783,726||After nearly 100 years as the nation's second largest city, Chicago is surpassed by Los Angeles and becomes the third largest city.|
|4||Houston||Texas||1,630,553||Houston overtakes Philadelphia to become the nation's fourth largest city.|
|6||San Diego||California||1,110,549||Second city in California to surpass 1 million.|
|8||Dallas||Texas||1,006,877||Second city in Texas to surpass 1 million.|
|10||San Antonio||Texas||935,933||First appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 21,872,554.
The 2000 Census was the 22nd in U.S. history.
|1||New York||New York||8,008,278||First city in the US to surpass 8 million|
|3||Chicago||Illinois||2,896,016||Chicago experienced population gain during the 1990s.|
|6||Phoenix||Arizona||1,321,045||First (and to date, the only) city in Arizona and only state capital to surpass 1 million.|
|9||San Antonio||Texas||1,144,646||Third city in Texas to surpass 1 million.|
|10||Detroit||Michigan||951,270||First city to ever drop back under 1 million; last appearance in top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 23,899,236.
Seven of the country's ten largest cities in 2010 were located in the Sun Belt region of the south and west, all of which have far lower population density than their earlier top-ranking counterparts. A different ranking is evident when considering U.S. metro area populations which count both city and suburban populations.
|1||New York City||New York||8,175,133|
|4||Houston||Texas||2,099,451||First (and to date, the only) city in Texas to surpass 2 million.|
|5||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||1,526,006||First population gain since 1950.|
|7||San Antonio||Texas||1,327,407||San Antonio's rapid growth causes it to overtake Dallas as Texas' second-largest city.|
|10||San Jose||California||945,942||First appearance in the top 10.|
The total population of these 10 cities was 24,513,008.