Bloomington has grown since decade one

Aerial view of Bloomington, Indiana, 1954. Photographed in a glass case at City Hall, Bloomington.

Aerial view of Bloomington, Indiana, 1954, photographed in a glass case at City Hall, Bloomington. The city is now about three times more populous than it was then…but five times bigger geographically.

Bloomington’s always been a small town, right? There must’ve been a long period, you think, when nothing much about it changed. And certainly Bloomington has always been dominated by IU students. They’ve always been a huge part of the city’s life.


But then you look at the numbers.

Bloomington’s bicentennial is coming up in a couple of years. From year one, actually, Bloomington has grown — often by leaps and bounds. And IU students have been more than half the city’s population only since the 1960s. Between censuses, the city may have shrunk for a year or two occasionally, but the decennial figures tell the plain story. Bloomington, like IU, Monroe County, and the state of Indiana, has always gotten bigger. I’m not saying that’s good or bad; I’m just reporting.

Here’s the stat that should really blow your mind:

Since 1960, Bloomington has grown, steadily, by an average of almost a thousand people a year.

Only half of that growth is directly attributable to the growth in IU enrollment. Just let all that sink in. Compare to other cities around the state, around the midwest. If you’re wondering why there’s so much housing going up around town, this might explain why.

Halfway to the next census, there’s no sign the trend is easing. The current official enrollment of IU in the fall of 2015 is 48,514. (This figure should be taken with a grain of salt: in 2013, IU began counting high-school AP credit-takers as enrolled students. For an approximate population number, subtract four or five thousand.) The 2015 estimate forBloomington is 84,067, for Monroe County is 144,705, and for the state of Indiana is 6,619,680.

There are a couple of data points in the table below that are estimates: the population of Bloomington in 1850, the actual enrollment count of students in the first year IU graduated anyone (1830). Other than those, this table represents, to my knowledge, the most complete historical reckoning of the population of Monroe County, of Bloomington, and of the enrollment at Indiana University. (The Census expects students to complete a census form where they go to college. The numbers for the city and county include students throughout. While some students choose to be counted at home, we assume this tendency occurs with the same frequency in every place with a college.)

Some other highlights of this data set:

  • Most people think that IU has always been the dominant population and economic entity in the city. In fact, IU students were only a quarter of the city at the beginning of World War II. The ratio of students to townies in the 19th century never rose above ten percent.
  • The enrollment at IU now accounts for two-thirds of one percent of the population of the entire state — an all-time high.
  • Bloomington became a metropolitan area in 1980, when it reached 50,000 residents.

Moral of the story: always check the numbers.

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[Hint: scroll right inside the table to see the Comments column.]

Two Centuries of Bloomington Population and IU Enrollment

Cens YearIU EnrBMGMONINDIU/ BMGIU/ MONIU/ INDBMG/ MONComments___________________________________
1820030026791471780.0%0.0%0.0%11.2%**BMG: 140 at end of 1818; ~300 by 1820 (Harvey). §First students numbered 10-13; began no earlier than either 1824 or 1825
18304070065773430315.7%0.6%0.012%10.6%§IU is an estimate; students numbered no more than 60 (Wylie). First 4 students graduated IU in 1830. BMG**
1840641200101436858665.3%0.6%0.009%11.8%BMG: 1200 (1847)*
1850781600112869884164.9%0.7%0.008%14.2%§BMG: SGV estimate
186010021181284713504284.7%0.8%0.007%16.5%BMG: 2118 (1866)*
187019424041416816806378.1%1.4%0.012%17.0%BMG: 2404 (1876)***
188018427561587519783016.7%1.2%0.009%17.4%BMG***; 3200 (1886)*
Population and Enrollment, State of Indiana, Monroe County, City of Bloomington, and Indiana University, 1820-2010. Compiled by Stephen Volan, 2015.

Where possible, data from US Bureau of the Census has been used. No federal census data exists for City of Bloomington before 1900.

IU data post-1900: IU Fact Books

Most IU data pre-1900: Wylie, Theophilus Adam. Indiana University, Its History from 1820, when Founded, to 1890: with Biographical Sketches of Its Presidents, Professors and Graduates: and a List of Its Students from 1820 to 1887. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1890.

*Data from Blanchard, Charles, ed. Counties of Morgan, Monroe and Brown, Indiana. Historical and Biographical. Chicago: F.A.Battery & Co., 1884.

**1820-30 COB data from History of Lawrence and Monroe Counties Indiana: Their People, Industries and Institutions. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Co, Inc., 1914.

***1820, 1876 figures from Harvey, Robert O., Land uses in Bloomington, Indiana, 1818-1950; cites Goodspeed p. 470.




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