1910 Census: The 13th federal census shows Washington's population growing at many times the national average; every county but one increases population; trend toward urban living is apparent.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 6/06/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9444

The 13th Federal Census is taken in 1910 and reveals that the population of our state has more than doubled in the preceding decade, following a trend of booming growth extending back to Washington's first inclusion as a territory in the federal census of 1860. The extent to which population growth in Washington outstrips that of the nation as a whole is illustrated by the following statistics: In 1910, the population of the United States was less than three time larger than it had been in 1860, while the population of Washington in 1910 is 98 times larger than it had been 50 years earlier. The Census Bureau in 1910 unveiled new tabulation machines, which used a punch-card system to expedite the count. In common with all early counts, the 1910 census is less comprehensive than censuses from more recent decades. There are fewer and less precise classifications for minorities. A far larger percentage of the total population lives down on the farm.  Every census provides both a demographic snapshot and a sociological glimpse of its era. Census takers in 1900 use some terms that would be used today, such as "urban" and "rural," and others that would not, such as "Negro," although this is considered terms of respect at the time. For the most part, this summary of the 1910 census uses the terminology of its day.

Census: Overview   

The population of Washington state in 1910 stood at 1,141,990, an increase of 623,887 (120.4 percent) above the 1900 count of 518,103. The state's rate of growth between 1900 and 1910 also greatly outstripped the previous decade, which saw a percentage gain in population of only 45 percent. However, it was less in percentage terms that the decade from 1880-1890, which saw a 375.6 percent increase.

The 1910 population density in Washington, which has a land surface of 66,836 square miles, was 17.1 persons per square mile, up from 7.8 per square mile  in 1900. For reasons that are not clear from the record, but may be due to either rounding or more accurate surveying, the size of Washington state in 1910 is shown to be 44 square miles smaller than the 1900 figure of 66,880.

Population and Growth: Counties

The political division of Washington state was still a work in progress during the first decade of the twentieth century. Parts of Klickitat and Yakima counties were carved off in 1905 to form Benton County, and part of Douglas County was made into Grant County in 1909. In 1907 the state Legislature split Chehalis County in two, with the western half becoming Grays Harbor County. This did not prevent the 1910 federal census from lumping together the population of Grays Harbor County and Chehalis County, dubbing its construction "Grays Harbor/Chehalis." And finally, in 1909, Grant County was created from a portion of Douglas County.

County populations ranged from tiny Skamania, with 2,887 persons, to King County, with 284,638 persons. These same two counties marked the extremes in density, as well, with Skamania having only 1.7 persons per square mile, and King County having 134.8 persons per square mile. In terms of physical size, Okanogan County was the state's largest, at 5,221 square miles, and San Juan County was the smallest, at 178 square miles.

The 10 largest counties in terms of population in the 1910 census were:

  • King:  284,638  (174,585 increase, or 158.6 percent, above 1900 count 110,053)
  • Spokane: 139,404 (81,862 increase, or 142.2 percent, above 1900 count of 57,542)
  • Pierce: 120,812  (65,297 increase, or 117.6 percent, above 1900 count of 55,515)
  • Snohomish:  59,209  (35,259 increase, or 147 percent, above 1900 count of 23,950)
  • Whatcom: 49,511  (25,395 increase, or 105 percent, above 1900 count of 24,116)
  • Yakima:  41,709 (28,247 increase, or 209 percent, above 1900 count of 13,462)
  • Grays Harbor/Chehalis:  35,590 (20,266 increase, or 135 percent, above 1900 count of 15,124)
  • Whitman:  33,280 (7,920 increase, or 31.2 percent, above 1900 count of 25,360)
  • Lewis:  32,127 (16,970 increase, or 112 percent, above 1900 count of 15,157)
  • Walla Walla:  31,931 (13,251 increase, or 70.9 percent, over 1900 count of 18,680)

Between 1900 and 1910, all but one of Washington's counties grew in population. In percentage terms, Franklin County was the fastest-growing, increasing by an astounding 960.3 percent, and Ferry  County, saw the slowest growth, at 5.2 percent.

In terms of numbers, the fastest growing county was King, showing an increase of 174,585, and the slowest was again Ferry County, which added only 238 people over the decade.

Columbia County in southeast Washington was the only county to experience a decrease in population between 1900 and 1910, losing 86 persons, or 1.2 percent of its total population.

Population and Growth: Cities

Three Washington cities had populations greater than 25,000 in 1910, with numerical and percentage comparisons to 1900 census counts:

  • Seattle 1910:    237,194     1900: 80,671 (+194 percent)
  • Spokane 1910:  104,102     1900:  36,848  (+183.3 percent)
  • Tacoma 1910:    83,743      1900:  37,714  (+122 percent)

The next seven largest cities in Washington, having populations between 10,000 and 25,000, with numerical and percentage comparisons to 1900 census counts:

  • Everett 1910:    24,814         1900: 7,838 (+216.5 percent)
  • Bellingham 1910:  24,298     1900: 11,062 (+119.6 percent)
  • Walla Walla 1910: 19,364      1900: 10,049 (+92.6 percent)
  • North Yakima 1910:  14,082     1900: 3,154  (+346.5 percent)
  • Aberdeen 1910: 13,660         1900: 3,747  (+264.6 percent)
  • Hoquiam 1910:  8,171         1900: 2,608 (+213.3 percent)
  • Olympia 1910:  6,996        1900:  3863 (+81.1 percent)

Population Distribution:  Urban vs. Rural

The 1910 census defined "urban territories" as "cities and other incorporated places of 2,500 inhabitants or more."  All persons not counted as living within urban territories were considered to be inhabitants of rural areas. 

Urban Population:

Counts for urban territories were further broken down to reflect how many inhabitants there were in cities and towns of varying sizes. The first number in parentheses below represent the number of cities or towns of the defined size. It is interesting to note that the 1910 census revealed that there was not a single town or city in Washington state with a population of between 25,000 and 50,000.

  • More than 100,000 inhabitants (2):   341,596 (29.9 percent of total state population)
  • 50,000-100,000 inhabitants (1):  83,743 (7.3 percent of total state population)
  • 25,000-50,000 (0)
  • 10,000-25,000 (5):  96,218  (8.4 percent of total state population)
  • 5,000-10,000 (4):  31,778 (2.8 percent of total state population)
  • 2,500-5,000 (15):  52,195 (4.6 percent of total state population)

In 1910, a total of 605,530 (53 percent of all Washington residents) lived in 27 urban territories, as opposed to the 1900 count of 211,477 (40.8 percent of all Washington residents) living in 15 urban territories.

Rural population:

The 1910 census divided the state's rural population into just two categories: those living in incorporated places with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants, and those living in "other rural territory," a category that included all those living on farms, ranches, or other areas that were not within the boundaries of any incorporated place. Rural population expressed as a percentage of total state population decreased by 12.2 percent between 1900 and 1910, a clear indication of the accelerating trend toward urban living. In 1910, a total of 536,460 (47 percent of all Washington residents) lived in cities or towns of less than 2,500 persons or in other rural areas, as opposed to the 1900 count of 306,626 (59.2 percent of all Washington residents). 

  • Cities and towns of fewer than 2,500 (150): 120,532  (10.6 percent of total state population)
  • Other rural territories: 415,928 (36.4 percent of total state population)

Population Characteristics:  Sex

Men greatly outnumbered women in Washington state in 1910:

  • 1910 male population: 658,663  (57.7 percent of total population)
  • 1900 male population: 304,178  (58.7 percent of total population)
  • 1900-1910 increase: 354,485 (116 percent increase)
  • 1910 female population: 483,327 (42.3 percent of total population)
  • 1900 female population: 213,925  (41.3 percent of total population)
  • 1900-1910 increase: 269,402 (126 percent increase)

Although men were still held a substantial numerical lead in population in 1910, the percentage growth rate for women was 10 percent higher than that for men, a harbinger of a closing gap that was to put women in the majority by the 1970 census.

Here is another way to consider this data:

  • In 1910, there were 136.3 males for each 100 females.
  • In 1900, there were 142.3 males for each 100 females.

Population Characteristics:  General Nativity

"Nativity" for purposes of the 1910 census was used to differentiate between U.S. residents born in America ("Native Born") and those who had immigrate from elsewhere ("Foreign Born"). Counts from this era reflect the large number of immigrants still coming to America, and showed that the percentage of foreign-born residents was somewhat higher in 1910 than it had been in 1900, a slight reversal from the trend revealed in the 1900 census.

  • 1910 Washington state native-born population:  885,749 (77.56 percent)
  • 1910 Washington state foreign-born population:  256,241 (22.44 percent)
  • 1900 Washington state native-born population:  406,739  (78.5 percent)
  • 1900 Washington state foreign-born population:  111,364 (21.5 percent)
  • Increase in native-born population 1900-1910:  479,010  (+117.8 percent)
  • Increase in foreign-born population 1900-1910:  144,877  (+130.1 percent)

Population Characteristics:  Race

The 1910 census used the following racial classifications:  White, Negro, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and All Others. The terms "White" and "Negro" were used to distinguish between European Americans and those of African descent. The "All Other" category consisted of what the Census Bureau characterized as "161 Hindus, 17 Filipinos, and 8 Koreans." The below percentage figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding.

  • 1910 White population in Washington: 1,109,111 (97.12 percent of total state population)
  • 1910 Japanese population in Washington: 12,929  (1.13 percent of total state population)
  • 1910 Indian population in Washington: 10,997 (0.96 percent of total state population)
  • 1910 Negro population in Washington: 6,058  (0.53 percent of total state population)
  • 1910 Chinese population in Washington: 2,709 (0.24 percent of total state population)
  • 1910 All Other population in Washington: 186 (0.016 percent of total state population)

It is interesting to note the ratio of men to women in the various racial categories, particularly those of persons from Japan and China:

  • Chinese: 1,325.8 males for each 100 females
  • Japanese: 665.9 males for each 100 females
  • Negro: 160.9 males for each 100 females
  • White: 136.3 males for each 100 females
  • Indian: 99.6 males for each 100 females

Population Characteristics:  Age

The breakdown by age of Washington's population in 1910 was:

  • Five years and under: 130,835
  • 5 to 9 years: 99,678
  • 10-14 years: 92,802
  • 15-19 years: 99,647
  • 20-24 years: 122,058
  • 25-29 years: 126,074
  • 30-34 years: 106,963
  • 35-39 years: 90,149
  • 40-44 years: 77.286
  • 45-49 years: 64,992
  • 50-54 years: 52,413
  • 55-59 years: 33,661
  • 60-64 years: 24,144
  • 65-74 years: 26,959
  • 75-84 years: 8,448
  • 85-94 years: 1,101
  • 95 years and older: 65
  • Age unknown: 6,794

It is interesting to note that 38.6 percent of the state's urban population was between 25 and 44 years of age, whereas only 31 percent of the rural population fell into that age group.

Population Characteristics:  Education

The educational statistics in the 1910 census are not as detailed as would become common in later counts, but do give a general idea of the educational status of the state's residents, and demonstrate that the idea of mandatory school attendance had not yet fully taken hold.

  • Number of children age 6 to 9 years: 78,943
  • Number of children age 6 to 9 years attending school: 59,538 (75,4 percent)

  • Number of children age 10-14: 92,892 
  • Number of children age 10-14 attending school: 87,681 (94.5 percent)

  • Persons age 15-17: 57,716
  • Person age 15-17 attending school: 36,179 (62.7)
  • Persons age 18-20 years: 64,017
  • Persons age 18-20 years attending school: 11,861 (18.5 percent)

The 1910 census showed very little difference in educational attainment between the urban and rural populations:

  • Urban population age 6-14 attending school: 67,062 (86.5 percent)
  • Rural population age 6-14 attending school: 80,157 (85.1 percent)
  • Urban population 15-20 attending school: 23,890 (38.1 percent)
  • Rural population 15-20 attending school: 24,150  (40.9 percent)

The number of persons over the age of 10 who were characterized as illiterate in the 1910 census was:

  • Persons age 10 and over who were illiterate: 18,416 (2 percent of age group)
  • Males age 10 and over who were illiterate: 11,724 (2.1 percent of males in age group)
  • Females age 10 and over who were illiterate: 6,692  (1.8 percent of females in age group)

Population Characteristics:  Marital Status

The following statistics regarding marital status of Washington residents were revealed in the 1910 census:

  • Number of males 15 years of age and older: 505,624
  • Number of males 15 years of age and older who were single: 245,634 (48.6 percent)
  • Number of males 15 years of age and older who were married: 231,139 (45.7 percent)  
  • Number of males 15 years of age and older who were widowed: 18,207  
  • Number of males 15 years of age and older who were divorced: 4,606
  • Number of females 15 years of age and older: 335,130
  • Number of females 15 years of age and older who were single: 88,669 (26.5 percent)
  • Number of females 15 years of age and older who were married: 214,653 (64.1 percent)
  • Number of females 15 years of age and older who were widowed: 26,560
  • Number of females 15 years of age and older who were divorced: 3,893

The foregoing statistics demonstrate how relatively rare it was for marriages of that era to end in divorce.  


Sources: Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Vol. 42-46 (Supplement of Washington) United States Census Bureau website accessed June 3, 2010
(http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/41033935v42-46ch6.pdf); Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 -- Vol. 3: POPULATION, United States Census Bureau website accessed June 3, 2010 (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/36894832v3ch7.pdf); "Census Data for Year 1910," University of Virginia, Historical Census website accessed June 3, 2010 (http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/php/start.php?year=V1910); "Decennial Populations for Cities and Counties: 1890-2000," State of Washington Office of Financial Management website accessed June 4, 2010 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/databook/local/lt08.pdf).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.

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