Second Cities: Keeping Pace with a Booming New York

Second Cities: Keeping Pace with a Booming New York

Since the founding of the American Geographical Society (AGS) in New York in 1851, New York has always been the largest city in the United States. However, over that period, four different U.S. cities had the second largest population, Baltimore in 1850, Philadelphia from 1860 to 1880, Chicago for a century from 1890 to 1980, and since then Los Angeles.


New York’s population has generally outpaced the growth of these other large cities. The size of the population of New York has changed relative to the second city. It reached a recent peak in 1970 when it was 134 percent larger than Chicago. Its share then declined over the ensuing decades due to crime and economic troubles before rebounding recently so that New York is now 116 percent larger than Los Angeles.


Initially, the name of the AGS was the American Geographical and Statistical Society of New York. This reflects its location in the primary city in the country and also its early fascination with quantification. The founders of the AGS would be proud to see that New York has retained its position atop the urban hierarchy and that the Society’s interest in numbers has continued. However, they might be a bit stunned to see that news of this fact has been posted on Facebook and on a blog!


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