America’s largest cities in 1850

The development of the West – meaning out to the Mississippi River, mostly – propels changes in the balance of population by 1850.

  1. New York (515,547) is without question the largest metropolis, boosted in part by commerce via the Erie Canal, transporting goods to and from the Great Lakes and Midwest.
  2. Baltimore (169,054) has leapt to second-place. The growing Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is a factor. The city takes advantage of being the closest Eastern Seaboard port to the Ohio Valley and its agricultural abundance.
  3. Boston (136,881). The textiles mills of New England have to be a factor in the city’s prosperity and position.
  4. Philadelphia (121,376). Its clout would be enhanced if its three suburbs in the Top 20 are tallied in, pushing it to second place.
  5. New Orleans (116,375). The nation’s center of gravity has shifted. Nearly as large is
  6. Cincinnati (115,435). Migrants from urban Germany make a difference.
  7. Brooklyn (96,838) is a thriving independent city just across the waters from booming Manhattan.
  8. St. Louis (77,860). Not just the gateway to the Far West, it’s also a center of urban German migrants.
  9. Spring Garden district, Pennsylvania (58,894). Adjacent to Philadelphia.
  10. Albany, New York (50,763) is active on the Erie Canal.

The next ten are also illuminating: 11, Northern Liberties district, Pennsylvania (47,223); 12, Kensington district, Pennsylvania (46,774); 13, Pittsburgh (46,601); 14, Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky (43,194); 15, Charleston, South Carolina (42,985); 16, Buffalo (42,261); 17, Providence, Rhode Island (41,513); 18, Washington, District of Columbia (40,001); 19, Newark, New Jersey (38,894); and Southwark district, Pennsylvania (38,799).

Altogether, six of the 20 largest cities are west of the Appalachians. Three of those are on the Ohio River. And, in contrast, New England has just two.

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