Over the past century, Americans have followed the old adage of “Go West, young man.” From the turn of the 20th century, the population of the West skyrocketed from nearly 7.1 million in 1910 to 9.2 million in 1920, a 30% jump in that decade alone, according to the United States Census Bureau.
The region has continued this rapid growth to reach a total population of 78.6 million in 2020. Within this larger geographic area, several states have experienced one of the country’s largest population booms since 1880.
To determine which states have grown the most since 1880, 24/7 Wall St. examined historical demographics from 1880 to 2020 from the US Census Bureau’s Decennial Population and Housing Census and data centers in population. States are ranked by population change from 1880 to 2020. While 1880 is the first year of data for nearly all states, it is 1890 for Oklahoma, 1930 for Hawaii, and 1960 for Alaska.
Arizona’s population grew from just over 40,000 to 7.2 million today between 1880 and 2020, a 176.8-fold increase. And that’s for a territory that didn’t become an official state until 1912. (Find out how each state has its shape.)
Arizona became a territory in 1846, when the United States took the area of Mexico. When silver and copper deposits were discovered in the state in the 1870s, Arizona’s population grew from 10,000 in 1870 to 122,000 in 1900. But the state’s population really took off. during World War II, when military bases and defense installations were established there, a study by the Washington University Remarks.
Completed in 1936, the Hoover Dam also ushered in an era of growth in the Phoenix area. And the invention of air conditioning made Arizona’s unbearably arid climate more palatable to newcomers, spurring its influx.
Further west and north, Washington state had the second highest population growth among the states between 1880 and 2020. The population of the Pacific Northwest state fell from 75,000 to 7 , 7 million, or a multiplication by 102.6.
What did it take to attract newcomers to this somewhat isolated area? The completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883, which ran from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Tacoma, Washington, was a major factor, the Washington University points out. Instead of a grueling overland journey, people could simply take a train to the state and put down roots. More recently, its large city, Seattle, has emerged as a major hub of the country’s tech industry.
At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont. The state of New England saw a meager 1.9-fold increase in population between 1880 and 2020, the lowest of the 50 states. Its current population totals less than 644,000 inhabitants.
Art Woolf, a former professor of economics at the University of Vermont and a columnist for VTDigger.org, a statewide news site, said Vermont Public Radio the state’s cold climate and lack of large cities can drive newcomers away. (To see the places with the heaviest snowfall in history in every state.)
Click here to see the states with the most population growth since 1880