Biggest cities in Michigan 150 years ago

Written by:
May 23, 2022
Alexander Alland, Sr./CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Biggest cities in Michigan 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 Michigan 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 Michigan ranked #18 among all cities nationwide in 1870. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 2 were in Michigan. 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: Counties with the most renters in Michigan

Street scene with general store
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Library of Congress

#25. Marquette, Marquette County

- Total population: 4,000 (#815 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,189
--- Female population: 1,811
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,062
Men and boys stand in front of a wagon shop
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Andreas Larsen Dahl/Wisconsin Historical Society // Getty Images

#24. Hudson, Lenawee County

- Total population: 4,094 (#768 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,021
--- Female population: 2,073
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,165
People and horses standing in front of a rural building with a sign
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Carson Brothers/Buyenlarge // Getty Images

#23. Ionia, Ionia County

- Total population: 4,158 (#748 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,179
--- Female population: 1,979
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,152
Horse drawn milk wagon in front of stores
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#22. Coldwater, Branch County

- Total population: 4,381 (#680 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,114
--- Female population: 2,267
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,279
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#21. Marquette, Marquette County

- Total population: 4,617 (#609 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,575
--- Female population: 2,042
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,219
People standing in front of a general store with painted signs
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#20. Niles, Berrien County

- Total population: 4,630 (#604 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,271
--- Female population: 2,359
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,345
Two story wooden building with porch and people in rural town.
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#19. Pontiac, Oakland County

- Total population: 4,867 (#550 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,406
--- Female population: 2,461
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,521
Blacksmith shoeing a horse
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Alexander Alland, Sr./Corbis via Getty Images

#18. Marshall, Calhoun County

- Total population: 4,925 (#537 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,370
--- Female population: 2,555
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,455
Group of people sitting on porch
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Carleton E. Watkins/Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

#17. Monroe, Monroe County

- Total population: 5,086 (#510 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,389
--- Female population: 2,697
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,702
Group of children pose with their teacher outside schoolhouse
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#16. Lansing, Ingham County

- Total population: 5,241 (#479 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,694
--- Female population: 2,547
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,636
Group of six sitting at outdoor picnic
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#15. Flint, Genesee County

- Total population: 5,386 (#463 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,712
--- Female population: 2,674
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,415
Doctor making medical rounds in horse buggy.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#14. Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County

- Total population: 5,471 (#445 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,653
--- Female population: 2,818
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,459
Large trees shading dirt road on residential street
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Detroit Publishing Company // Library of Congress

#13. Battle Creek, Calhoun County

- Total population: 5,838 (#395 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,848
--- Female population: 2,990
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,510
Farrier shoeing a horse with blacksmith and two other men standing nearby.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#12. Port Huron, St. Clair County

- Total population: 5,973 (#383 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,001
--- Female population: 2,972
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,805
Men on steps of rural General Store
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#11. Muskegon, Muskegon County

- Total population: 6,002 (#381 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,409
--- Female population: 2,593
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,515
Waiters and waitresses pose for a group picture
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Bettmann // Getty Images

#10. Ishpeming, Marquette County

- Total population: 6,103 (#370 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,859
--- Female population: 2,244
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,351
Horse and wagon outside general store
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#9. Bay City, Bay County

- Total population: 7,064 (#295 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,863
--- Female population: 3,201
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,905
Group of young women out for a trip in a horse drawn Surrey
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Transcendental Graphics // Getty Images

#8. Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County

- Total population: 7,363 (#279 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,614
--- Female population: 3,749
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,976
Man standing in door of ice cream parlor
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#7. Saginaw, Saginaw County

- Total population: 7,460 (#274 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,010
--- Female population: 3,450
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,032
People in street scene with horse and buggy and bicycles
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#6. Adrian, Lenawee County

- Total population: 8,438 (#238 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,023
--- Female population: 4,415
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,338
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Vintage Images // Getty Images

#5. Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County

- Total population: 10,447 (#173 nationwide)
--- Male population: 5,173
--- Female population: 5,274
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,862
Men standing next to horse drawn carriages in front of shops
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American Stock/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#4. East Saginaw, Saginaw County

- Total population: 11,350 (#146 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,018
--- Female population: 5,332
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,085
Men and women sitting with bicycles in park.
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Chicago History Museum // Getty Images

#3. Jackson, Jackson County

- Total population: 11,447 (#144 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,104
--- Female population: 5,343
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,836
Woman seated in horse drawn carriage with three people standing
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H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#2. Grand Rapids, Kent County

- Total population: 16,507 (#92 nationwide)
--- Male population: 8,349
--- Female population: 8,158
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 4,610
Majestic Building Detroit
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Alexander Alland, Sr./CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

#1. Detroit, Wayne County

- Total population: 79,577 (#18 nationwide)
--- Male population: 39,392
--- Female population: 40,185
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 23,508

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