total population: 1,485,053
72% increase since 1880
Having been made a state fifty years earlier, California entered the century with a population comparable to the city of San Diego’s current population. At this time, nearly 1 in every 4 Californians lived in the city and county of San Francisco. New highways were about augmenting the railroads and sea lanes to open California up to the US and the world, igniting a century-long population boom. Note that Imperial County was still a part of San Diego County at this time (it was split off from San Diego and made into its own county in 1907).
total population: 3,426,861
131% increase since 1900
Los Angeles grows quickly in the first twenty years of the century to overtake San Francisco’s population, aided in part by the completion of the first Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1908. Alameda County begins to absorb many new Bay Area residents—including some San Francisco residents displaced by the 1906 earthquake. Rapid industrialization, including a burgeoning food-processing sector6 and shipbuilding efforts to support the First World War, draw migrants from all over the world to California’s urban centers.
total population: 6,907,387
102% increase since 1920
The diversifying industrial base of Los Angeles, including the emergence of the film industry, leads to extraordinary growth. Public works like the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges are completed from 1920 to 1940 to accommodate the influx of residents. San Francisco, Alameda, and Sacramento counties also see gains, but many suburban counties, like Orange in the south and Santa Clara in the Bay Area, see only modest gains up to this point.
total population: 15,717,204
128% increase since 1940
The post-war boom is perhaps the most significant of all, as the state’s population triples in the latter half of the century.4 California emerges from the Second World War as a center for the aerospace industry, adding to its predominance in intensive agricultural production, media, manufacturing, and petroleum refining. The emergence of aerospace fosters hotbeds for technological innovation.
total population: 23,667,902
51% increase since 1960
During this period, California continues to grow faster than the nation, though more slowly than in past decades. Intensive economic development takes a serious toll on the environment, leading many residents to begin efforts to reduce intolerable smog in Southern California and clean a heavily polluted San Francisco Bay.3 Additional suburban counties like San Bernardino and Ventura in the south and Contra Costa in the north see considerable gains during this time.
total population: 33,871,648
43% increase since 1980
California closed out the century with a population larger than Canada and the world’s sixth-largest economy.2 And yet, to this day there are counties in the state with fewer than 10,000 persons and population densities of less than 4 persons per square mile. This cartogram tells a story of population enumerated at the county level but barely hints at the geographic diversity of the state’s landforms. Select other years to see this story of population growth unfold over the twentieth century.
If States had the same population density as California, what would their size be?