How many people lived in Bisbee?

A perennial question I get relates to Bisbee’s population, generally in the form of “how many people lived here?”

One semi-answer that has floated around for years is that Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. That would be news to the folks in Denver and El Paso.

A search of census records I did many years ago showed that Bisbee was never the largest city in the state, in term of the decennial count, but that has a problem in two areas: It only was taken every 10 years, so what if Bisbee was bigger during the middle of a decade, and it only counted the incorporated city. Much of Bisbee’s population lived outside the city limits.

Bisbee population in 1916

That should read “Fred A. McKinney’s.”

Fortunately, there are alternative sources of population counts, and I just came across one from early 1916, in the form of an article in the Bisbee Daily Review about the second city directory being put together by Fred A. McKinney. The morning newspaper reported Feb. 23 of that year that canvassing for the directory had been completed and it was at the printers.

It would show 22,744 people in the Warren District, a gain of 16% from the population when the first directory had been completed two years earlier.

The survey even broke it down between the city proper (13,579) and the “suburbs,” with 9,165. It also broke out the suburban population: the area of Lowell, which included Johnson Addition, Jiggerville, Upper Lowell, Winwood Addition, Germantown and Naco Road east of the city limits, was the largest, with 5,185 people.

It’s amazing that an area which is now almost totally gone, mostly due to the development of the Lavender Pit in the 1950s, had as many people as the entire city does today.

Warren added 1,434, South Bisbee had 626 residents (hard to imagine!), Don Luis had 401, Tintown was packed at 815 and Bakerville and Cochise (the Cochise Row area) had 704.

McKinney’s people had started their canvass the prior fall and had been on top of changes. During the duration of the survey, 473 families had moved to a different house in the district, about 700 people had left the district and between 1,500 and 1,600 had moved in. So between October and February, there had been a net gain of almost 900 residents.

McKinney also was working on a director for Douglas at the time, which showed a population of 14,600.

Bisbee must have been crowded!

Today, fewer than 2,000 people live in what was then Bisbee and what we now call Historic or Old Bisbee. The rest of the city wasn’t incorporated at the time, and wasn’t brought into the city limits until 1959.

Imagine what it must have been like when 13,579 people lived in the area that today supports fewer than 2,000! Granted, a few houses have been torn down or moved and some have burned down, but most of them are still there.

Two days after this report, the Review said that about 3,000 residents (and that’s just in the incorporated city) were registered to vote in an election to be held that spring. That was an increase from 2,847 registered to vote in 1914, a number which included 757 women.

The city clerk, M.L. Butler, said he expected the number to increase by May 12, when registration would close.

A sidelight to elections back then is that no declaration of party was required for registering for a city election, though it was for county and state elections.

Did the city continue to grow?

So, the question is, did the community grow more after 1916? Probably. The copper industry was booming, supporting the war in Europe, even though the United States was a year away from joining in the fracas. Wages, which were on a sliding scale tied to the price of copper (about 25 cents a pound at this time), were higher than they had ever been.

A couple of years earlier, when the Review was bragging about its circulation, it reported that some 5,000 men worked in the mines. That number was likely larger by 1916.

By this time, many miners, who were fresh from Europe, were heading to Canada to join the fight which the United States was avoiding, and many others were coming in to replace them. (This will have implications, of course, that lead to the 1917 strike and subsequent Deportation, but that’s not what this article is about.) How this impacts population would require guessing.

After the war ended, in November 1918, the demand for copper immediately decreased drastically, as did the price and thus wages and jobs. If Bisbee did have a peak population, it was before this time, and I’ll keep looking for information on these numbers.

What we do see is that by the time of the 1920 census (reported by the Review on May 12 of that year), Bisbee’s population had fallen to 9,025. We can assume that the population of the various suburbs had fallen commensurately.

The Tombstone Epitaph reported Oct. 10, 1920 that the entire Bisbee area had a census-based population of 16,086, down more than 6,000 from the 1916 numbers. The census showed the Warren townsite with a population of 2,042.

It is likely that the distribution of population within the district did continue to change, however. While Warren had a population of 1,434 in 1916, the Review reported Nov. 16, 1919 that the relatively new townsite’s population had reached “more than 2,500” and the homes in the area were pretty much 100 percent occupied. (Obviously different from the census numbers acquired shortly thereafter.)

And there is no reason to believe that the population of the greater Bisbee area would ever have cause to rise again to the levels achieved during the peak of World War I, during which the district produced a significant amount of the Allies’ copper.


How many people lived in Bisbee? — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Art imitates life, Revolution style | Epic of Bisbee

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