World’s Largest Cities, 1850

World’s Largest Cities, 1850

Source: United Nations Population Division.

By 1850, only three cities had a population of more than 1 million inhabitants; London, Beijing, and Paris. The urban landscape was rapidly changing with the growth of new industrial cities in Europe and North America:

  • Conventional cities have been the political and commercial centers of their respective civilizations for centuries. They usually commanded access to an immediate large agricultural hinterland capable of supporting their large populations (by historical standards). These included Beijing, Guangzhou, Istanbul, Mumbai, Cairo, and St. Petersburg. Some of them were (former) colonial cities (e.g. Havana, Mexico) acting as commercial and administrative centers for European interests.
  • Modernizing cities are driven by the industrial revolution and its demographic transition, most of them in Europe. These included London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Philadelphia, and Liverpool. Many of these cities were of small size prior to the industrial revolution, which permitted the realization of their economic potential and specialization. Some were manufacturing centers, commercial gateways, or resource collection centers.