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Energy Facts: Map of U.S. Electricity Consumption in 1921

I recently came across a fascinating blast from the past: a wonderful cartogram illustrating the relative level of electricity consumption in each U.S. state circa 1921. The size of each state in the graphic represents the amount of electricity consumed in that state “for light and power” and the green numbers represent the state’s rank in the U.S. for total electricity consumption. Click the image below to enlarge.

Electricity consumption in the U.S. states, circa 1921

This image was originally published along with a collection of other interesting early-20th century cartograms of the United States by the blog Making Maps. This particular graphic was first published in Literary Digest’s April 23, 1921 issue. Further proof that the current resurgance of “infographics” is hardly novel!

(A hat tip to Sean Trende of RCP for bringing it to my attention on Twitter).

The graphic sparked my curiosity: what accounts for the very low electricity usage across most of the U.S. south or the fairly high usage in many of the western states? How do these rankings compare to the population of each state in this era? What does this graphic tell us about the relative industrial might or economic status of each state?

I don’t have a ton of answers to these questions, and hope our readers can help provide their theories and evidence. Please chime in in the coments below.

However, I did compile a comparison of the state rankings for electricity consumption in 1921 with the state’s ranking for population as of the 1920 U.S. census. I’ve flagged each state where their ranking in electricity consumption diverges from their population ranking by at least 5 positions. Those with a lower ranking for electricity than population are shown in red; those with higher electricity consumption shown in green. Once again, click to enlarge the table.

U.S. State Rankings: Population and Electricity Consumption, circa 1921

U.S. State Rankings: Population and Electricity Consumption, circa 1921

Please discuss!

Jesse Jenkins's picture

Thank Jesse for the Post!

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Discussions

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on July 26, 2013

Pressuamably fuel access and population explain much of the map.

On the recent trends in DataViz, I think the resurgence is mostly a function of tech making stuff easier.

That much said, I’d guess Hans Rosling is one of the few modern contenters for the infographic hall of fame.  Some of the best stuff is much older.  Think John Snow’s cholera map and Florence Nightingale’s mortaility in the Crimean War

 

  

 

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on July 26, 2013

My theory for the divergence between population rank and electricity consumption rank for most states also revolves around fuel availability. Those in the west with much higher electricity rankings (e.g. Washington) were blessed with plenty of hydropower (and coal; I’m not sure how early western coal resources were exploited in the inland west, but Seattle Washington was a major coal port in those days I believe) while those in the Appalachian region certainly had plenty of coal resources.

Sean Casten's picture
Sean Casten on July 26, 2013

would be interesting to see correlation by state GDP rather than population.  Your date corresponds with an industrialization of the country and migration from farm belt to the cities.  Electricity use per capita (implicitly your comparison) is interesting, but my guess is you’d see more interesting trends looking at how the states with electricity were also disproportionately driving economic activity.  Dollars to donuts says electricity –> economic activity –> migration to electricity-intensive states.  Your disconnects may just reflect a snapshot when that cycle wasn’t yet complete.

Sean Casten's picture
Sean Casten on July 26, 2013

I think you may have the causality backwards, or at least somewhat folded around.  The first cities to industrialize were those that had access to mechanical, not electrical power (hydro & steam).  Think Lowell MA.  That begat industrialization of those cities which concentrated the need for power and then made them the natural hosts for the first power plants once they were built.  (Lots of the first power plants were tied directly to industrial facilities rather than connected to a grid).  I can’t prove that, but hopefully you can find the data to do so!  In any event, supply begat demand begat supply begat the chicken begat the egg..

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on July 26, 2013

Thanks for the insightful comment Sean.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on July 26, 2013

I was actually hoping to find just that data as well, but came up empty handed yesterday. If anyone has state GDP data for this era please drop a link in the comments and I’ll update the ranking table with that data as well.

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on July 26, 2013

Indeed Sean, that is quite a convincing argument

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on August 5, 2013

That idea certainly makes sense. For example I have read several historical pieces regarding the iron industry at the time and electrification of these plants (starting circa 1860’s I think) and the industry tended to be quite rapid and self contained. The main reason is that this industry is a gas generator and on the advent of sucessful gas cleaning and top gas recovery, these gasses were available for electricity generation as opposed to combustion only.

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