Tucson and Columbus

Though located in entirely separate parts of the nation, and separated by divides of culture, ethnicity, and geography, if one views the two cities with a squint, they appear quite similar in many ways. Both have served as the capital of their state or territory (though Tucson was only the capital of the Arizona Territory, and only for a period of a few years). Both were the beneficiaries of Western expansion, albeit one substantially before the other. And both exhibit pronounced post-war population booms, and have grown at a very similar rate since.

Columbus was founded in 1812, to serve as the capital for the new state– a new city for a capital helped avoid the appearance of playing favorites among the larger population centers, and because the other candidates were located at the fringes of the state; a new city at the center of the state would be ideal. Its growth was sluggish, though it was helped by the arrival of the National Road in 1831; this connection to Baltimore, and through it the major cities of the East, helped to facilitate a population boom. Its growth from then on was quite steady until the privations of the Great Depression and World War I, which almost halted population growth entirely. Fortunately the city did well economically during these times due to its position in the manufacturing and steel industries; this helped it to capitalize upon the economic expansion of World War II, bringing jobs in large numbers. This plus the post-war Baby Boom restored and even increased its population growth, exceeding the pre-Depression rate; though it levelled off briefly during the recessions of the late twentieth century, it has since shown some signs of revival.

Tucson, meanwhile, was not founded as part of the United States at all. Its earliest inhabitants were Native Americans, and it became part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853–the last large land purchase in the continental United States. It can perhaps be forgiven for its extremely slow rate of growth during its very early history– Arizona is a largely inhospitable part of the West, and migrants largely passed it up in favor of California or Oregon. (Certainly, nobody ever played the Arizona Trail on classroom computers in elementary school.) Phoenix was chosen over Tucson as the capital when it came time for statehood, and were it not for Tucson’s position as the major railroad center of Arizona, it would likely have fallen into some obscurity; as it was, Phoenix quickly outpaced Tucson in terms of population. This link with the East was instrumental in Tucson’s slow growth, however. Like Columbus, Tucson benefited mightily from the post-war boom. In its smaller population, the growth is even more noticeable, quadrupling its population in only ten years– testament not only to the Baby Boom but to an increase in livable land due to advances in irrigation technology and the growing American love affair with the suburb and the automobile.

A timeplot of the two cities’ population is visible here.


Ohio History Connection, “Columbus, Ohio.” (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Columbus,_Ohio?rec=689)

Ohio Steel Council, “History of Ohio Steelmaking.” (http://www.ohiosteel.org/ohio-steel-industry/history/)

City of Tucson. “A Brief History of Tucson.” (http://government.tucsonaz.gov/info/brief-history-tucson)

City of Tucson, Urban Planning and Development Department. “Tucson Post-WWII Residential Subdivison Development.” (http://oip.tucsonaz.gov/files/preservation/Text_-_Tucson_Post_WWII_Residential_Subdivision_Development.pdf)