Population of Duluth: 1860 to 2000

Update: A more recent version of this chart with 2010 and 2020 figures and additional notes is now available.

I can’t remember ever seeing a graph of Duluth’s population over time, so I made one. The results of the 2010 U.S. Census aren’t in yet, but the state demographer estimated a population of 85,220 in 2008, so perhaps a slight dip can be expected.

The topic for discussion: What is the ideal population for Duluth?

Before you answer, keep in mind that the number of households is continuing to increase. They used to cram a lot of people into houses back in the day, whereas now we prefer to spoil ourselves with space. In 1950 there were nearly three-and-a-half people per household. Now there’s just over two, on average. Which means the city is more crowded with houses in 2010 than it was when the population peaked in 1960.

Here’s the population numbers again, in case you can’t read them in the graph.

1860 – 80
1870 – 3,131
1880 – 3,483
1890 – 33,115
1900 – 52,969
1910 – 78,466
1920 – 98,917
1930 – 101,463
1940 – 101,065
1950 – 104,511
1960 – 106,884
1970 – 100,578
1980 – 92,811
1990 – 85,493
2000 – 86,319



about 14 years ago

For me the size (however you care to measure it) of Duluth is about right. Enough to have a lot of different social-circles/neighborhoods/niches but not so much that it takes too god damned long to get from one end to the other, or to escape altogether, or to find someone you know, and it is small enough you can have a passing familiarity with all parts.

I've lived in smaller and bigger. Smaller can be nice, but sooner or later everyone knows everyone else's business, and I don't like bigger even though I enjoy visiting it.


about 14 years ago

The population of Duluth will be perfect after my girlfriend and I can find jobs and move up from the cities!


about 14 years ago

This leads me to believe that Duluth needs less streets.

Let's reclaim as many miles as we resurface and let grass and trees grow.


about 14 years ago

Maybe 6000-10000 immigrants in St. Cloud from east Africa can move to Duluth and help you get back over the hundo.


about 14 years ago

It's not the quantity, but the quality of our population that makes Duluth a pretty awesome town. I'm with Edgeways, too. Big cities are nice to visit, but I just wouldn't want to live there. Smaller towns can be cool, but even in Grand Marais, everyone wants to be the last person to move in.


about 14 years ago

An interesting number but it'd be nice to see it expanded ... add in Superior, Proctor, Hermantown and other close connected communities. It's gotta be pushing 250k then


about 14 years ago

This is a very interesting question and forward thinking Paul.  If Google does choose Duluth and there is an economic boom then we need to prepare for the possible population growth that would follow.  More students choosing to stay in town after graduation due to opportunity would increase demand on housing and drive up costs.  A few years ago I was interested and following the city comprehensive planning process but then had children since and have neglected to pay attention.  Did that get anywhere and did it have projections for growth for the city?


about 14 years ago

Thanks for sharing. I had thought Duluth's population peaked higher than that. 

Duluth could fit in quite a few more people and retain its big town/small city character.  I think it may be good for Duluth to add higher density housing downtown, in the proposed Dinkytown, and in reclaimed industrial areas along the waterfront.

The Friendly West End would benefit from a few thousand more people too.  That would go a long way toward revitalizing West Superior Street.

Hopefully any expansion that happens will be in currently developed areas. No more honking houses!


about 14 years ago

It's going to take a while for the 2010 numbers to be plugged in, but Zip Skinny is pretty cool.


about 14 years ago

The population was stunted in 1920 because that's when prohibition started


about 14 years ago

I made a similar graph about 7 years ago while making a slide presentation on Skyline Parkway.  I also made a timeline of major events - like the Depression, Wars, 1918 Fire & Flu epidemic as well as the creation of attractions of Duluth (lift bridge, Enger Tower, the Depot and the 40 years for the building of Skyline Parkway.  Comparing all these inputs is interesting.  There used to big events in Duluth parks and on Skyline when the population was much higher - and when there weren't more and more indoor 'distractions' like t.v./computers.  
I think the ideal population would be about 100,000.  There are plenty of modest homes available and more downtown living.  All the construction in Hermantown - upstream from Duluth - is a bit scary.  Let's not have too much rain at once.


about 14 years ago

Here's a question: What does the overall area's population fluctuation look like? Does it follow the same peaks and valleys, or did, say, Superior's population increase when Duluth's decreased? (Or Cloquet/Hermantown/Two Harbors.)

I honestly suspect that the regional population fluctuation was similar to Duluth's, but haven't seen anything directly confirming it.


about 14 years ago

edgeways - Duluth had about 20K fewer residents in 2000 than in 1960.  I bet population gains in Hermantown and rural areas just outside of city limits account for some of the loss.  

Or has Duluth been gaining folks from the Range, Superior, and northern MN in general just at a slower rate than they've lost people to the TC and Sunbelt? 

Maybe there are three major simultaneous migrations since 1960.  The first is from the central city to suburbs (Duluth to Hermantown), a second from small towns in the region to bigger cities (Eveleth to Duluth), and a third migration from the region to other regions (Duluth area to Arizona). 

Of course I'm speculating, but I suppose data showing where people move to or where they move from is non-existent.  And I suppose this theory ignores the much talked about migration to here from Chicago and Detroit.  Any demographers out there that can straighten me out or point out some data to shed light on this?

Rich Pelto

about 13 years ago

Somewhere I read that Duluth's population in the 1930s was actually much higher than the figures shown by the census.  If I remember right, the figure was somewhere around 130,000.  All I know is that the infrastructure there shows that it was a much more lively and energetic place.  I am especially interested in Smithville, where during the war, the place was busy with 3 shifts of work, and the steel plant buzzing with activity.  Does anybody have any information about this population increase that missed the census?


about 13 years ago

Really cool graph.  I think the population now is pretty good, although fewer people in the West End might solve the "Bad Neighborhood" problem.  Also, what is your source for the graph?  Anyway, great idea.

Paul Lundgren

about 13 years ago

The source for the graph was U.S. Census figures.

Paul Lundgren

about 13 years ago

The 2010 Duluth population figure was released today: 86,265.

I guess I have to make a new graph.

john hayward

about 13 years ago

I have relatives Edwind F Parker which were in Duluth when the population was about 100.  Edwin was the county district attorney and was a prosecutor in a trial in August 1870.  The population in 1869 was less than 1,000 but by trial time it was over 3,500.

A change of venue requested by the defense was denied when it was pointed out only 3/4 current residents would have not have known about the case.  It would have been interesting to live and see the change in population over that time.

Your graph may have sharper uptick around 1870.

Murder in Minnesota: A Collection of True Cases

Steve E Knight

about 4 years ago

I like Duluth and the area very much.  Lived in and around from 1970 to 1992.  But at that time the population was nose diving at a 45 degree angle.  The city was very apathetic, and defeatist.  But now it seems to be finally recovering a bit.  But...losing the steel mill, the phony asbestos in the lake fiasco. Everything conspired against Duluth.  Glad to see it upbeat again.

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