Court House with park in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Biggest cities in Wisconsin 150 years ago

Written by:
May 23, 2022
Simon Leonard Stein/Wisconsin Historical Society // Getty Images

Biggest cities in Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin ranked #19 among all cities nationwide in 1870. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 1 was in Wisconsin. 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: Most diverse counties in Wisconsin

Street scene with general store
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Library of Congress

#25. Platteville, Grant County

- Total population: 3,683 (#944 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,831
--- Female population: 1,852
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,146
Men and boys stand in front of a wagon shop
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Andreas Larsen Dahl/Wisconsin Historical Society // Getty Images

#24. Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County

- Total population: 3,689 (#939 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,046
--- Female population: 1,643
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,134
People and horses standing in front of a rural building with a sign
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Carson Brothers/Buyenlarge // Getty Images

#23. Dodgeville, Iowa County

- Total population: 3,708 (#928 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,871
--- Female population: 1,837
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,337
Horse drawn milk wagon in front of stores
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#22. Berlin, Green Lake County

- Total population: 3,800 (#889 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,859
--- Female population: 1,941
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,156
Rural farm machinery store with wagons and people
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#21. Waukesha, Waukesha County

- Total population: 3,877 (#858 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,988
--- Female population: 1,888
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,373
People standing in front of a general store with painted signs
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#20. Portage, Columbia County

- Total population: 3,945 (#840 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,986
--- Female population: 1,959
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,318
Two story wooden building with porch and people in rural town.
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#19. Ripon, Fond du Lac County

- Total population: 4,119 (#759 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,041
--- Female population: 2,078
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,163
Blacksmith shoeing a horse
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Alexander Alland, Sr./Corbis via Getty Images

#18. Kenosha, Kenosha County

- Total population: 4,209 (#733 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,115
--- Female population: 2,194
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,365
Group of people sitting on porch
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Carleton E. Watkins/Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

#17. Whitewater, Walworth County

- Total population: 4,285 (#711 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,033
--- Female population: 2,252
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,358
Group of children pose with their teacher outside schoolhouse
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#16. Beloit, Rock County

- Total population: 4,396 (#677 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,178
--- Female population: 2,218
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,314
Group of six sitting at outdoor picnic
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#15. Jefferson, Jefferson County

- Total population: 4,408 (#673 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,259
--- Female population: 2,149
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,585
Doctor making medical rounds in horse buggy.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#14. Appleton, Outagamie County

- Total population: 4,518 (#638 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,213
--- Female population: 2,305
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,373
Large trees shading dirt road on residential street
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Detroit Publishing Company // Library of Congress

#13. Monroe, Green Bay County

- Total population: 4,536 (#631 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,243
--- Female population: 2,293
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,428
Farrier shoeing a horse with blacksmith and two other men standing nearby.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#12. Green Bay, Brown County

- Total population: 4,666 (#591 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,353
--- Female population: 2,313
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,437
Men on steps of rural General Store
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#11. Mineral Point, Iowa County

- Total population: 4,825 (#558 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,439
--- Female population: 2,386
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,648
Waiters and waitresses pose for a group picture
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Bettmann // Getty Images

#10. Manitowoc, Manitowoc County

- Total population: 5,168 (#496 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,558
--- Female population: 2,610
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,697
Horse and wagon outside general store
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#9. Sheboygan, Sheboygan County

- Total population: 5,310 (#471 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,627
--- Female population: 2,683
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,874
Group of young women out for a trip in a horse drawn Surrey
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Transcendental Graphics // Getty Images

#8. Watertown (part of), Jefferson County

- Total population: 5,364 (#466 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,640
--- Female population: 2,724
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,876
Man standing in door of ice cream parlor
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#7. La Crosse, La Crosse County

- Total population: 7,785 (#262 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,948
--- Female population: 3,837
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,123
People in street scene with horse and buggy and bicycles
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#6. Janesville, Rock County

- Total population: 8,789 (#223 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,324
--- Female population: 4,465
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,686
Postman delivers mail by horsedrawn carriage
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Vintage Images // Getty Images

#5. Madison, Dane County

- Total population: 9,176 (#215 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,562
--- Female population: 4,614
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,198
Men standing next to horse drawn carriages in front of shops
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American Stock/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#4. Racine, Racine County

- Total population: 9,880 (#189 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,909
--- Female population: 4,971
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,664
Men and women sitting with bicycles in park.
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Chicago History Museum // Getty Images

#3. Oshkosh, Winnebago County

- Total population: 12,663 (#127 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,402
--- Female population: 6,261
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,769
Woman seated in horse drawn carriage with three people standing
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H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#2. Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac County

- Total population: 12,764 (#124 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,254
--- Female population: 6,510
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 4,109
Court House with park in Milwaukee Wisconsin
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Simon Leonard Stein/Wisconsin Historical Society // Getty Images

#1. Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

- Total population: 71,440 (#19 nationwide)
--- Male population: 35,275
--- Female population: 36,165
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 22,225

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