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As Capital’s Baseball Futility Remained Constant, Demographics Changed Over the Decades

FRIDAY, NOV 08, 2019

The 1930s was the last decade when the Washington, D.C., area had fewer than 500,000 residents – and until last month, the last time its baseball team had a shot at a World Series championship.

The capital, founded in 1790, posted annual growth throughout much of its early history, almost doubling in size during the 1870s Reconstruction Era. Between 1810 and 1920, the district grew an average of 44 percent every decade. By 1930, however, the effects of the Great Depression were being felt even in Washington, and its growth slowed to 11.3 percent, the lowest in its history. Until earlier this year, the 1933 season marked the last time that a Washington baseball team appeared in the Fall Classic. For almost a century, its fans would be mocked with the 1904 description:  Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League. Although pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson led the team to its only World Series title in 1924, the futility of the team – known then as the Senators – was a running joke for almost a century.

While it would take almost a century for the fortunes of the city’s baseball team to rebound, change came much quicker for its demographics, according to a Social Explorer analysis of the 1930 Census. At the beginning of the 1930s, the District of Columbia was the 26th-largest county in the United States, with a population of 487,000 — not much more than some estimates of the crowd that gathered to celebrate the Nationals World Series victory last month and barely half the size of nearby Baltimore.

Visualize and analyze illiterate population 10 years and over in the 1930s. Click here to explore further.

Visualize and analyze population density per square mile in the 1930s. Click here to explore further.

The city’s population wouldn’t reach its high point until the 1950s, the decade that also marked the beginning of a 50-year increase in its minority population. Black residents, who would make up as much as 70 percent of the city’s population by 1970, made up barely one-quarter of its total back in 1930.

Washington lost population every decade between 1950 and the turn of the century, when it posted a 5.2 percent gain. Since 2010, the capital has added almost 100,000 new residents, according to American Community Survey estimates.

The city has grown older, too, along with the rest of the country. Life expectancies in the 1930s were much shorter than today. The typical white male born in 1930 could expect to live another 60 years, so only 1.6 percent of the city’s population was older than 75. By contrast, the average white male born in 2000 could expect to live to see a 75th birthday and made up about 5 percent of residents.

Most questions asked by the decennial Census or the American Community Survey weren’t included in the 1930 headcount, such as median household income or commuting time. Obviously, access to the Internet wasn’t a factor in the 1930 Census, but 53.9 percent of families had a radio to listen to the games – a considerably higher percentage than other places in the U.S. at the time, although not as plugged in as places like Worcester County, Mass., or Ramsey County, Minn.

Author: Frank Bass

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