100 years of disappointment

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The 1920 Census bumped St. Louis out of fourth place, launching a century-long quest to undo the Great Divorce of 1876. And though its population would climb for a few decades – peaking at 856,796 in 1950 – St. Louis kept sliding in the rankings and dropped out of the top 10 in 1970. 

Reaction to the preliminary census results, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 13, 1920, was predictable:

Mayor Henry Kiel: “It isn’t enough. Either it is not a complete count of all our inhabitants, I fear, or else the census of 1910 was too optimistic. We will have to abide by the count, but I am sorry we have not more.”

W.F. Carter, president of the Chamber of Commerce: “I trust that one result of the 1920 census of St. Louis will be to rivet public attention on St. Louis’ boundary limitations with a view to correcting them by proper legal procedure to the end that St. Louis may come into her own in the fullest.”

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Samuel Rosenfeld, president of the Million Population Club: “These figures ought to make every St. Louisan an active worker for annexation of certain territory in the county that is rightfully a part of this city’s population.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page weighed in on April 14, 1920. A cartoon by Daniel R. Fitzpatrick emphasized the boundary restrictions. And an editorial explored other issues. St. Louis, it argued, compared unfavorably to Detroit: it had higher utility costs, a municipal administration that “aided and abetted” the street car companies, “a political machine operated continuously by the same party,” and a private sector unwilling to develop its riverfront resources without government help. And, of course, “Detroit has not been confined within immovable, unnatural boundaries by a tangle of legal cordage permitting no annexation of tributary territory for more than 44 years.”

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(Originally published April 7, 2020)

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