Special Report

This Is America's Largest City

The places where most people live in America have evolved over time. At one point, the largest cities in the U.S. were all along the East Coast, but that has changed as more parts of America were settled and developed. What hasn’t changed since the 1790s is the largest U.S. city by population. Just as it was 200 years ago, America’s largest city today is New York.

Over time, people migrated west, and the South further developed. Chicago was the first really big city in the center of the country. It had over 1.6 million residents in 1900 and was second most populous at the turn of the 19th century. Detroit had only 285,000 residents at the time, which would grow many times by 1950 as people migrated to the city to find jobs in the car industry.

The migration of Americans to the West Coast triggered the rise of large cities there, but that happened decades after cities in the middle of the country became large metro areas. Los Angeles had only 100,000 residents in 1900. Today, the figure is just below 3.9 million.

At about the same time, the largest cities in Texas also started to grow. Houston had fewer than 45,000 residents in 1900. That figure is 2.3 million today. (This is the largest city in every state.)

To find the largest city in the U.S., 24/7 Wall St. reviewed population data from the Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey for U.S. cities. For each city we added land and total area from the Census Bureau’s TIGERweb data files and calculated population density. Area figures are current as of Jan. 1, 2021, except for Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky, which has data from 2010.

Though New York is also quite large, ranking 21st (in land area) of the 625 cities considered, it has the second highest population density because of the size of its population. Among the 50 largest cities by population, Jacksonville, Florida, has the largest area and one of the lowest population densities.

Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 39% of the American population — which totals 328.2 million — reside in cities of at least 50,000 people. But out of the roughly 19,500 incorporated cities, towns, and villages in the United States as of 2018, only slightly more than 300 of them had populations above 100,000 people; only 89 had more than 250,000 people; and only 10 were home to a million or more residents.

Some of America’s oldest continuously occupied settlements have evolved into booming cities that continue to grow — click here for the oldest town in every state.

Click here for America’s largest cities by population