Biggest cities in California 150 years ago

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May 23, 2022
Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Biggest cities in California 150 years ago

After the completion of the 1860 census and the election of President Abraham Lincoln, America imploded. Eleven southern states seceded from the Union in 1861, instigating four bloody years of the Civil War and fundamentally altering the social history of the U.S. The estimates of deaths caused by the Civil War begin around 600,000, but some claim as many as 750,000 individuals died throughout the conflict.

With so many families looking for a new start after combat finally ended and approximately 4 million Black Americans emancipated from slavery, it was time for many Americans to look for a new home to put down roots. The obvious choice for many was to move west, where there was more land to buy, settle, and cultivate. Many traveled by covered wagon, spending months on the dusty trail. Others who could afford better accommodations took a 25-day ride by stagecoach. All of them picked new cities and towns to make their homes, spreading the U.S. population more evenly across different states and territories.

On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad route across the United States was completed, ushering in a new era of transportation. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, though with the loss of many lives, including those of the many Irish and Chinese immigrants hired to work 12-hour days in the hot western sun. Riding by steam engine, passengers could cross the entire country in four days, enabling waves of Americans and immigrants to quickly occupy land that would otherwise take months to settle.

The years of Civil War reconstruction, coupled with wagon, stagecoach, and railroad passengers finding new lives across the U.S., made the urban development reflected in the 1870 census incredibly interesting. Stacker compiled a list of the biggest cities in California from 150 years ago using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. By transcribing Table XXV of the Ninth Census of the U.S., which was previously only available as a PDF, it's easy to explore what the urban landscape looked like less than a decade after the end of the Civil War as America healed and grew.

The largest city in California ranked #10 among all cities nationwide in 1870. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 2 were in California. Keep reading to find out more about the historic metropolitan landscape in your home state or check out the data on your own on our site, GitHub, or data.world.

You may also like: Least educated counties in California

Street scene with general store
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Library of Congress

#23. Washington, Alameda County

- Total population: 3,019 (#1,465 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,907
--- Female population: 1,112
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 733

Men and boys stand in front of a wagon shop
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Andreas Larsen Dahl/Wisconsin Historical Society // Getty Images

#22. San Bernardino, San Bernadino County

- Total population: 3,064 (#1,417 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,803
--- Female population: 1,261
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 987

People and horses standing in front of a rural building with a sign
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Carson Brothers/Buyenlarge // Getty Images

#21. Cache Creek, Yolo County

- Total population: 3,067 (#1,412 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,913
--- Female population: 1,154
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 813

Horse drawn milk wagon in front of stores
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#20. Pajaro, Santa Cruz County

- Total population: 3,114 (#1,362 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,833
--- Female population: 1,281
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,029

Rural farm machinery store with wagons and people
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#19. Gilroy, Santa Clara County

- Total population: 3,195 (#1,293 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,907
--- Female population: 1,228
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 847

People standing in front of a general store with painted signs
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#18. Eden, Alameda County

- Total population: 3,341 (#1,193 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,012
--- Female population: 1,329
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 799

Blacksmith shoeing a horse
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Alexander Alland, Sr./Corbis via Getty Images

#17. Santa Clara, Santa Clara County

- Total population: 3,469 (#1,084 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,070
--- Female population: 1,399
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,177

Group of people sitting on porch
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Carleton E. Watkins/Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

#16. Chico, Butte County

- Total population: 3,714 (#923 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,476
--- Female population: 1,238
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 853

Group of children pose with their teacher outside schoolhouse
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#15. Napa, Napa County

- Total population: 3,791 (#892 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,220
--- Female population: 1,571
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 977

Group of six sitting at outdoor picnic
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#14. Nevada, Nevada County

- Total population: 3,986 (#821 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,652
--- Female population: 1,334
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 940

Doctor making medical rounds in horse buggy.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#13. Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County

- Total population: 4,255 (#722 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,377
--- Female population: 1,878
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,392

Large trees shading dirt road on residential street
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Detroit Publishing Company // Library of Congress

#12. Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County

- Total population: 4,436 (#665 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,605
--- Female population: 1,831
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,176

Farrier shoeing a horse with blacksmith and two other men standing nearby.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#11. Petaluma, Sonoma County

- Total population: 4,588 (#619 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,548
--- Female population: 2,040
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,397

Men on steps of rural General Store
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#10. 3, Contra Costa County

- Total population: 4,610 (#610 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,794
--- Female population: 1,816
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,324

Waiters and waitresses pose for a group picture
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Bettmann // Getty Images

#9. Marysville, Yuba County

- Total population: 4,738 (#572 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,144
--- Female population: 1,594
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 923

Horse and wagon outside general store
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#8. Los Angeles, Los Angeles County

- Total population: 5,728 (#411 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,186
--- Female population: 2,542
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,629

Group of young women out for a trip in a horse drawn Surrey
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Transcendental Graphics // Getty Images

#7. Vallejo, Solano County

- Total population: 6,391 (#344 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,957
--- Female population: 2,434
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,322

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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#6. Grass Valley, Nevada County

- Total population: 7,003 (#300 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,545
--- Female population: 2,518
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,638

Postman delivers mail by horsedrawn carriage
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Vintage Images // Getty Images

#5. San José, Santa Clara County

- Total population: 9,089 (#216 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,971
--- Female population: 4,118
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,442

Men standing next to horse drawn carriages in front of shops
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American Stock/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#4. Stockton, San Joaquin County

- Total population: 10,006 (#187 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,210
--- Female population: 3,856
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,438

Men and women sitting with bicycles in park.
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Chicago History Museum // Getty Images

#3. Oakland, Alameda County

- Total population: 11,104 (#150 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,589
--- Female population: 4,515
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,848

Woman seated in horse drawn carriage with three people standing
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H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#2. Sacramento, Sacramento County

- Total population: 16,283 (#93 nationwide)
--- Male population: 9,465
--- Female population: 6,818
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,838

Busy street scene on Market Street in San Francisco
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Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#1. San Francisco, San Francisco County

- Total population: 149,473 (#10 nationwide)
--- Male population: 86,182
--- Female population: 63,291
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 34,541

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