Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/December 1903/The Growth of Rural Population




IN the last decade numerous articles were written and many warnings sounded regarding the depopulation of the rural districts in the eastern and north central portions of the United States. To a person believing that the country, not the city, furnishes the 'bone and sinew' of the nation, a study of the census returns for 1890 provided sufficient foundation for such articles. Now another ten years have passed into history; new and, in many cases, quite different industrial conditions obtain; a new census has been taken and its results are now available. It is the purpose of this article to discuss the tendencies which are found at the present time in regard to the changes in rural population and to show that an improvement in rural conditions seems to be indicated by statistical study as well as by a survey of the social and industrial situation.

Taking the township as a basis of comparison, we find that during the decade, 1880-1890, the population decreased in 57 per cent, of the townships of the state of Ohio, in 48 per cent, of those of Indiana and in 56 per cent, of the townships of Illinois; during the decade, 1890-1900, the percentages are, respectively, 53, 4312, and 34. In these three north central states a total of 2,037 townships, or 5412 per cent., decreased in population during 1880-1890; but only 1,631, or 43 per

State. Number of cities having a population of 25,000 or more. Total increase in population of these cities, 1880-1890. Same, 1890-1900. Total increase in population of state, 1880-1890. Same, 1890-1900. Total increase in population of state outside large cities, 1880-1890. Same, 1890-1900.
New York 12 848,481 1,052,155 914,982 1,265,251 66,501 213,096
Ohio 9 287,188 298,958 474,254 485,229 187,066 186,271
Indiana 5 72,683 103,337 214,103 324,058 141,420 220,721
Illinois 7 646,122 655,797 748,480 995,199 102,358 339,402
Massachusetts 19 305,409 366,160 455,858 566,403 150,449 200,243
Vermont none 136 11,219 136 11,219
New Hampshire 1 11,496 12,861 29,539 35,058 18,043 22,197
New Jersey 10 205,053 238,268 313,817 438,736 108,764 200,468
Delaware 1 18,953 16,077 21,885 16,242 2,932 1165
Total 64 2,395,385 2,743,613 777,669 1,394,782
cent., decreased during the last decade. New York shows little change, the figures for the two decades being nearly identical. In Massachusetts, only 34 per cent, of the townships show a decrease in population during the last decade.

The above table presents several important and interesting facts regarding distribution of the increase in population of the nine states studied. All except Delaware show a greater increase in the population of the large cities during the period 1890-1900 than during the preceding decade. Delaware and Ohio, outside of the large cities, increased less during 1890-1900 than during 1880-1890. In Delaware alone the entire population of the state increased less during 18901900 than during the decade preceding. In these nine representative states, the population of the large cities increased 347,327 more during 1890-1900 than during 1880-1890; while the remaining portion of the states, the rural districts, increased 517,313 more (hiring 1890-1900 than during 1880-1890.

These figures indicate that, although the growth of our large cities is still more rapid than that of the remaining parts of the country, the rural districts are not being depopulated; but, on the contrary, are rapidly increasing in population. The growth is by no means uniform. The counties near the rapidly growing cities of Chicago, Cleveland and Toledo are increasing in population; while many in central and southern Ohio are decreasing. The contrast between New Jersey and Delaware, as shown in the table, is undoubtedly to be attributed to the influence of New York City and Philadelphia in the case of New Jersey, and the lack of such influence in the case of Delaware. The writer attributes much of this growth in the vicinity of these cities to the development of an extensive suburban electric railroad system. This may be objected to on the ground that the electric roads were not in operation long enough before 1900 to produce an appreciable effect. In order to prove or disprove definitely the census of 1910 will be required.

In the state of New Jersey only one county, Huntingdon, decreased in population during the last decade. Of the 104 cities, towns and boroughs in this state separately returned in both 1890 and 1900, 86 increased during that period. Only two counties, Barnstable, in the Cape Cod district, and Nantucket, an island, in the state of Massachusetts, show a decrease in population during the last decade. The three New England states, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, report only two cities having a population of more than 25,000 people; they may, therefore, be called 'rural' states. An examination of the population of these three states reveals one significant common tendency—the percentage of increase was greater in each state during 1870-1880 than during 1880-1890; but the percentage for 1890-1900 was greater than for 1870-1880. There is a distinct recovery in the rate of increase in population.

The statistics given of the north central and New England states show that, taken as a whole, the rural sections are not being depopulated, but arc increasing in population at a gradually accelerated rate; townships and villages located near large cities, as a rule, show the greatest gain in population; better methods of transportation and communication and improved social conditions actually do tend to stop the depopulation of the rural districts. The reasons which may be given for this increased rate of growth in the population of the rural and suburban districts are many. They may be conveniently classified as follows: First, recent changes and improvements in industrial methods and conditions; second, the improvement in the home and social life of rural communities, due to better methods of transportation and communication.

At present there is a marked tendency for manufacturing plants to locate in the suburbs or the outskirts of a city. It seems probable that this tendency is to continue and that our manufacturing establishments are in the future to be located farther from the crowded portions of a large city or in a small city or town. The value of land is lower and rents are lower than in the densely populated portions of the city. Better shipping facilities can usually be obtained; switches can be built into the plant itself with little expense. The old two-, three-, or more story shop is being supplanted by the one-story steel structure; methods of construction have undergone a radical change in recent years. The new style building is better lighted, heated and ventilated than the old; it also requires more floor space and provides for traveling cranes to carry heavy parts of machinery. Coincident with this change in shop construction has come a change in the methods of transmitting power. Shafting and belting are being replaced in many new shops by compressed air and electricity. The use of compressed air and electricity allows the machines to be spaced much farther apart, as power can be economically transmitted over a much greater distance than in the case where shafts and belts are used. Long distance transmission of electrical power and the utilization of water power will aid in scattering manufacturing establishments in localities outside the large cities—witness the rapid growth of industrial settlements near Niagara Falls and the Sault Sainte Marie. Water power is destined to play a continually increasing part in industrial operations; but if we are able to transmit power economically to considerable distances, there will be no necessity for a close concentration of manufacturing plants in the vicinity of any water-fall. No claim is made that such a change involves a return to smaller units or to a greater number of small proprietors. It. taken in connection with the preceding, does, however, point to a scattering of manufacturing plants; to a spreading out over more ground space in the case of each individual establishment and to more healthful, natural and inviting home and shop surroundings for the working men. One company may own many plants located on one large site or in many different parts of the United States, as circumstances may dictate. The great economies which consolidation permit are in the expense of management, in buying, selling, advertising and the like. These are as readily obtained when the business is carried on in several moderately large establishments as in one mammoth one. Increased facilities for rapid transportation also allow workmen to live many miles from their work. In this connection one more point must be discussed. Employers as well as students of social conditions are beginning to understand that the efficiency and value of workingmen to their employer depends, in a large measure, upon the home and shop conditions and environment. Poorly fed, poorly housed and poorly clothed workmen are not efficient laborers; also, dark, dingy, unsightly, poorly ventilated and badly heated factories are distinctly detrimental to the amount and quality of the work done in them. Looking at the matter from the standpoint of profits, as purely a business proposition, employers are beginning to realize this fact and to attempt to remedy it. The following quotation, taken from a magazine devoted to shop management and economy, illustrates the trend of thought: "The duty of a corporation, like that of an individual, is of a dual nature, viz., toward itself and toward its neighbors. Its duty to itself comprises the necessity of turning out its product cheaply and at the same time excellent in quality. To fulfill these requirements the management must see that the component factors of production are kept in prime condition. The more intelligent the employees and the more efficient their facilities for production, other things being equal, the cheaper and better will be the resultant output. . . . The manager who lives in luxury, without seeming to care for the condition or welfare of his employees, rouses antagonisms, which are not conducive to collaboration with his interests either in the works or in the community." A better grade of workingmen is, as a rule, attracted to a shop located in the suburbs owing to its superior advantages in regard to shop and home environment. The theory of demand and supply is not the sum and substance of economic thought and reasoning. The human element must be considered. Humanitarian principles are beginning to be recognized in the business world and must be reckoned with in the future.

The improvement of the rural school, the increased rural circulation of the daily paper and the magazine, the electric suburban and interurban railroads, improved roads, rural mail delivery, the extension of the telephone service into the rural districts and many other improvements and innovations which improve the social condition of the country people all tend to increase the wants of the rural communities, to raise their standard of living and hence to increase the real wages of the dwellers in those places. Here stands revealed one of the positive forces which is stopping the drift of population from country to city. The standard of living of the rural population has been lower than that of urban communities. The wants of the farmer have been few and simple; but better facilities for communication, for travel and for intercourse with his fellow men are improving his social and economic condition. Those who have been most ambitious, whose standard of living has been the highest, have been forced, of necessity, to migrate first to the town and then to the city or to forego the gratification of their wants and desires, both material and social. The hours of labor have been very long in rural communities, not only for the farmer, but for the women and children as well. Little leisure has been allowed the farmer and his wife in which to develop new wants. New inventions, new methods and better opportunities to reach markets for buying and selling are decreasing the necessity for long hours and are giving the farmers better social and intellectual advantages. All forces which gradually improve the social, moral, intellectual or economic condition of the farmers as a class tend to improve their standard of living and will in turn decrease the rate of migration from country to city.
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George Wallace