Detroit Population History 1900-2000
This page graphically depicts Detroit, Michigan's population changes during the 20th century. Population statistics from the US Census are displayed from 1900 to 2000. The graphics attempt to show how highway policy affected how people chose where to live.
20th Century Detroit: Growth and Migration
The story of Detroit during the 20th century is a story of growth and intra-region migration. The metropolitan area grew from 500 thousand people to over 4.8 million people during the 100 years. While the region was growing, people migrated from the city proper to the outlying suburbs. The 3D population graphic below clearly shows these trends; surrounding counties have grown in population, while the City of Detroit has declined.
Each vertical bar represents absolute Census population in decades since 1900.
Click the following link to view a full-size graphic of Detroit population history 1900-2000.
Detroit Population Trends By Decade
The following set of ten graphics shows the detailed population changes during each decade. Purples and reds indicate population declines, while greens and blues indicate population gains. Each graphic displays the population changes for each city, village, or township. Therefore, you can visualize the intra-regional migration patterns.
Growth and migration cannot happen without a transportation system to support it. Where people live is intrinsically tied to the transportation system that is built. You can see clearly the demise of Detroit's urban core occurring in direct correlation to the dismantling of the public transit system and construction of highways.
For more information, view A Streetcar Named Desire, a presentation with a 100 year timeline of public transportation in Detroit.
Scroll to the bottom for a legend and further information on how to read the graphics. The population of the Detroit region here is defined as the population of the City of Detroit, Wayne County, St. Clair County, Macomb County, Oakland County, Livingston County, Washtenaw County, and Monroe County.
|Absolute Change||Details||Percent Growth|
1900 - 1910
1910 - 1920
1920 - 1930
1930 - 1940
1940 - 1950
1950 - 1960
1960 - 1970
1970 - 1980
1980 - 1990
1990 - 2000
Influence of Highways
The figures below show interstate highways overlaying growth rates. Highways allowed the outer suburbs of Detroit to grow. Most of the interstate highways were built during the 1960s, as a result of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956). This massive public-works project was funded through taxes on gasoline. Breaking with long-standing precedent, Congress allocated the funds exclusively toward highway-construction. The inadvertent effect has been to continue highway construction at the expense of public transportation projects, which are more efficient modes for inter-city commuting. All the problems associated with runaway highway-building have also resulted, including congestion, air and water pollution, and destruction of farm land to name a few.
press ESC or click the "Stop" button to stop the animation
Color shades in the percent change figures are not comparable across decades. However, darkest reds are always the largest percentage decliners of the decade and darkest blues are always the largest percentage gainers of the decade. i.e. colors indicate relative growth or decline between the minor civil divisions in that decade. Look at the population statistics to ascertain the overall growth or decline in population during the decade.
Gray indicates the population change was not available.
In the absolute change figures, purple shows population losses and green shows population gains.
This historical data was prepared by SEMCOG in 2002 for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, to supplement their 50-year master plan.
- Historical Population and Employment by Minor Civil Division, Southeast Michigan; Population, 1900-2000; Employment, 1970-2000 - SEMCOG, June 2002
- Historical Population - Technical Report (Unpublished)
- Transportation Riders United - Promoting Public Transit in Detroit
- SEMCOG - Detroit's designated regional planning agency
- MDOT - Michigan Department of Transportation
Disclaimer: This content is provided as-is. The information may be incorrect.