Thursday, March 10, 2011

Most Populous Cities Through the Centuries (and diagrams of the principle high buildings of the world, 1884)

Tertius Chandler's compilation of the population of cities throughout history, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census is an amazing work providing the population of cities throughout time. Chandler utilized a plethora of historical sources to locate approximate populations for the world's largest cities since 3100 BCE.

As there were few censuses prior to the end of the eighteenth century, Chandler used a variety of methods to determine the size of the world's largest cities: he used traveler's estimates, data on the number of households within cities, the number of wagons of food that arrived at the cities, the size of the military (commonly 1/6 of the size of a city during peace and 1/5 of the size of the city during times of crises), the area of the city walls along with typical densities, church records, the amount of food distributed to citizens, city comparisons (i.e. London is larger than Paris but smaller than Moscow), and even the loss of life in a disaster!

Therefore, in many cases, Chandler's numbers can only be considered rough approximations of the urban population. His figures include the city and surrounding suburban or urbanized area....the list, back to 3100 BCE
Looking at the individual lists the changes from 1900 to 1950 are interesting, China and India rejoin the top 10 after absences:

Top 10 Cities of the Year 1900

1London, United Kingdom6,480,000
2New York, United States4,242,000
3Paris, France3,330,000
4Berlin, Germany2,707,000
5Chicago, United States1,717,000
6Vienna, Austria1,698,000
7Tokyo, Japan1,497,000
8St. Petersburg, Russia1,439,000
9Manchester, United Kingdom1,435,000
10Philadelphia, United States1,418,000

Top 10 Cities of the Year 1950

1New York, United States12,463,000
2London, United Kingdom8,860,000
3Tokyo, Japan7,000,000
4Paris, France5,900,000
5Shanghai, China5,406,000
6Moscow, Russia5,100,000
7Buenos Aires, Argentina5,000,000
8Chicago, United States4,906,000
9Ruhr, Germany4,900,000
10Kolkata, India4,800,000

A quick look at Wikipedia (what, I'm supposed to use the greatest encyclopedia ever? The 11th edition of the Britannica was published in 1910) shows that among cities proper there are no North American cities and only one European (Moscow) in the current rankings.

HT: Infectious Greed

A vaguely related exercise was George Cram's “Diagram of the Principal High Buildings of the World.” from his 1884 volume, modestly titled "Cram’s Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World":

File:Worlds tallest buildings, 1884.jpg (click to enlarge, then click again to ginormousize or follow link)
HT: Kottke