Special Report

This Is America's Largest City

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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

Source: GCShutter / Getty Images

New York, New York
> Population: 8,336,817
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 472.4 — #11 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 300.5 — #21 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 27,747 — #2 of 625 cities

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Source: choness / Getty Images

Los Angeles, California
> Population: 3,979,537
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 501.6 — #7 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 469.5 — #8 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 8,476 — #58 of 625 cities

Source: Ron_Thomas / Getty Images

Chicago, Illinois
> Population: 2,693,959
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 234.5 — #29 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 227.7 — #27 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 11,830 — #25 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Houston, Texas
> Population: 2,316,797
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 671.7 — #3 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 640.4 — #3 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,618 — #275 of 625 cities

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Source: JacobH / Getty Images

Phoenix, Arizona
> Population: 1,680,988
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 519.3 — #5 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 518.3 — #5 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,243 — #319 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
> Population: 1,584,064
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 142.7 — #57 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 134.4 — #56 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 11,790 — #26 of 625 cities

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

San Antonio, Texas
> Population: 1,547,250
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 504.2 — #6 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 498.4 — #6 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,104 — #337 of 625 cities

Source: Ron and Patty Thomas / E+ via Getty Images

San Diego, California
> Population: 1,423,852
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 372.4 — #15 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 325.9 — #15 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,369 — #197 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Dallas, Texas
> Population: 1,343,565
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 383.5 — #13 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 339.6 — #14 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,956 — #238 of 625 cities

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Source: NicolasMcComber / Getty Images

San Jose, California
> Population: 1,021,786
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 181.4 — #40 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 178.3 — #37 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 5,730 — #113 of 625 cities

Source: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto / Getty Images

Austin, Texas
> Population: 979,263
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 326.5 — #21 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 319.9 — #17 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,061 — #344 of 625 cities

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Source: Arpad Benedek / Getty Images

Fort Worth, Texas
> Population: 913,656
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 356.9 — #17 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 348.6 — #12 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,621 — #409 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Jacksonville, Florida
> Population: 911,528
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 874.5 — #2 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 747.3 — #2 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 1,220 — #595 of 625 cities

Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

Columbus, Ohio
> Population: 902,073
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 226.0 — #31 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 220.1 — #28 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,098 — #225 of 625 cities

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Charlotte, North Carolina
> Population: 885,707
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 311.1 — #23 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 309.2 — #19 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,865 — #374 of 625 cities

Source: Nicolas McComber / Getty Images

San Francisco, California
> Population: 881,549
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 231.9 — #30 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 46.9 — #224 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 18,791 — #6 of 625 cities

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Source: f11photo / Getty Images

Indianapolis, Indiana
> Population: 870,340
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 367.9 — #16 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 361.6 — #11 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,407 — #442 of 625 cities

Source: july7th / Getty Images

Seattle, Washington
> Population: 753,655
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 142.1 — #58 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 83.9 — #103 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 8,985 — #52 of 625 cities

Source: photoquest7 / Getty Images

Denver, Colorado
> Population: 727,211
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 154.7 — #47 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 153.1 — #44 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,751 — #165 of 625 cities

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Source: f11photo / Getty Images

Washington, District of Columbia
> Population: 705,749
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 68.4 — #148 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 61.1 — #157 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 11,546 — #31 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Boston, Massachusetts
> Population: 694,295
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 89.6 — #109 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 48.3 — #216 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 14,363 — #15 of 625 cities

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Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

El Paso, Texas
> Population: 681,729
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 259.2 — #27 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 258.4 — #24 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,638 — #407 of 625 cities

Source: Steven_Kriemadis / Getty Images

Detroit, Michigan
> Population: 670,052
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 142.9 — #56 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 138.7 — #53 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,830 — #159 of 625 cities

Source: JacobH / iStock via Getty Images

Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee
> Population: 668,580
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 497.5 — #9 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 475.8 — #7 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 1,405 — #576 of 625 cities

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Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
> Population: 655,158
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 620.8 — #4 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 606.5 — #4 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 1,080 — #606 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Portland, Oregon
> Population: 653,467
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 145.0 — #53 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 133.5 — #57 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,896 — #155 of 625 cities

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Source: f11photo / Getty Images

Las Vegas, Nevada
> Population: 651,297
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 141.9 — #59 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 141.8 — #50 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,592 — #178 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Memphis, Tennessee
> Population: 651,088
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 302.6 — #25 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 294.9 — #22 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,208 — #468 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky
> Population: 617,630
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 342.2 — #20 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 325.3 — #16 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 1,899 — #514 of 625 cities

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Baltimore, Maryland
> Population: 593,490
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 92.0 — #104 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 80.9 — #108 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 7,332 — #74 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
> Population: 590,157
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 96.8 — #99 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 96.2 — #92 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 6,136 — #102 of 625 cities

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Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

Albuquerque, New Mexico
> Population: 560,504
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 189.0 — #38 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 187.3 — #34 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,993 — #356 of 625 cities

Source: dszc / Getty Images

Tucson, Arizona
> Population: 548,082
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 241.3 — #28 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 241.0 — #26 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,274 — #462 of 625 cities

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

Fresno, California
> Population: 531,581
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 116.8 — #76 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 115.6 — #67 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,598 — #175 of 625 cities

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Source: Richard Phillips / iStock via Getty Images

Mesa, Arizona
> Population: 517,981
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 139.4 — #60 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 138.8 — #52 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,732 — #262 of 625 cities

Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

Sacramento, California
> Population: 513,620
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 100.7 — #96 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 98.6 — #89 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 5,209 — #134 of 625 cities

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Atlanta, Georgia
> Population: 506,804
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 136.3 — #62 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 135.3 — #55 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,745 — #259 of 625 cities

Source: TriggerPhoto / Getty Images

Kansas City, Missouri
> Population: 495,278
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 318.8 — #22 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 314.7 — #18 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 1,574 — #554 of 625 cities

Source: SWKrullImaging / Getty Images

Colorado Springs, Colorado
> Population: 478,215
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 196.2 — #35 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 195.8 — #32 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,442 — #437 of 625 cities

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Source: ChrisBoswell / Getty Images

Omaha, Nebraska
> Population: 478,203
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 146.1 — #52 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 142.5 — #48 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,356 — #311 of 625 cities

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

Raleigh, North Carolina
> Population: 474,708
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 148.2 — #49 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 147.1 — #45 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,227 — #323 of 625 cities

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Source: Art Wager / Getty Images

Miami, Florida
> Population: 467,968
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 56.1 — #192 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 36.0 — #308 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 13,001 — #19 of 625 cities

Source: Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

Long Beach, California
> Population: 462,645
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 77.8 — #128 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 50.7 — #205 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 9,122 — #48 of 625 cities

Source: Oliver Kawwass / Getty Images

Virginia Beach, Virginia
> Population: 449,974
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 497.5 — #8 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 244.7 — #25 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 1,839 — #524 of 625 cities

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Source: trekandshoot / Getty Images

Oakland, California
> Population: 433,044
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 78.0 — #127 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 55.9 — #176 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 7,742 — #68 of 625 cities

Source: StevenGaertner / Getty Images

Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Population: 429,605
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 57.5 — #187 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 54.0 — #190 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 7,956 — #65 of 625 cities

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Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

Tulsa, Oklahoma
> Population: 401,760
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 201.8 — #34 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 197.7 — #31 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,032 — #492 of 625 cities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Tampa, Florida
> Population: 399,690
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 175.8 — #43 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 114.0 — #68 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 3,506 — #292 of 625 cities

Source: stockcam / Getty Images

Arlington, Texas
> Population: 398,860
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 99.4 — #97 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 95.8 — #93 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 4,162 — #219 of 625 cities

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Source: Kruck20 / iStock via Getty Images

New Orleans, Louisiana
> Population: 390,144
> Total area (including water) in square miles: 349.8 — #19 of 625 cities
> Land area square miles: 169.5 — #39 of 625 cities
> Population density per sq mile of land area: 2,302 — #458 of 625 cities

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