Population in the Bay Area, 1940—2010

About the Visualization

The nine-county Bay Area underwent rapid population growth after World War II. Santa Clara County led the region in growth, in part because of efforts among municipalities to expand their size. The growth-as-progress contingent in city government led municipal political efforts at expansion, believing that the growth of their cities not only served the region better—avoiding what the saw as petty bickering among many small communities—but also served their interests by capturing a larger tax base and, in turn, fueling more efforts towards residential and industrial growth. The traditional urban centers of the Bay Area—San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond—had seen their populations rise during the war years, but in the postwar era populations moved into the suburbs. Throughout the 1940s the population of Santa Clara County nearly doubled, and by the mid-1950s, nearly 4,000 new people were moving to the county every month. The county’s 1950 population of 290,547 people exploded to 642,365 by 1960, surpassing San Francisco as the region’s urban center.

The rapid rise of the Bay Area followed a wartime and postwar trend throughout the American West. New opportunities in western cities after a decade of economic depression led migrants to metropolitan areas to take jobs in wartime industries in the 1940s. The American West especially felt the impact of this shift, leading urban historian Carl Abbott to remark that the migration led "the entire West into a half-century of head-long urbanization."1 Western metropolitan areas—Dallas, San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Albuquerque—became centers of new economies based on high technology, services, tourism, and recreation.2 The region that Bernard DeVoto once described as a "plundered province" had become an economic pacesetter in the latter twentieth century, propelled by world war, new economic pursuits, demographic shifts, and federal funding.3

In Santa Clara County, San Jose experienced the most rapid growth. city leaders starting with the Progressive Committee of the 1940s initiated a campaign to make San Jose a regional powerhouse. In the mid-1940s, an ambitious group of young merchants, lawyers, industrialists, and property owners endorsed the importance of metropolitan expansion in order for the city to achieve the greatness they felt it deserved. The political machinery of San Jose was controlled by the taxi service operator and political boss Charlie "Boss" Bigley and City Manager C. B. Goodwin. Goodwin and Bigley became targets as their critics charged that the leadership failed to entice new industries to the city and help stabilize an economy built on the instability of agriculture and seasonal employment.

The 1944 election gave opponents of Bigley and Goodwin an opening. When six of the seven city council seats opened for election, opponents led by businessmen Harvey Claude Miller and Louis Oneal, formed the “Progress Committee” and put up a slate of candidates to capture the vacated council seats.4 The Progress Committee candidates accused Bigley, Goodwin, and the city council of jeopardizing San Jose’s future. Voters, and the newspaper, agreed. Aided by the newspaper’s endorsement, six members of the Progress Committee—among them the key business and political figures Al Ruffo, Ernest Renzel, Ben Carter, Jim Lively, Roy Rundle, and Fred Watson—secured seats on the city council as “reform” candidates. Lacking the majority on the council to directly fire the manager, the Progress Committee amended the city’s charter requiring city managers to stand for biennial approval by the citizens. The Committee further weakened the power of entrenched officials by reducing the city council member's terms from six year to four year terms. By the end of the 1940s, Goodwin would be out of office, and the Progress Committe also ousted the antireform manager that replaced Goodwin, John Lynch.


Jason A. Heppler, "Population in the Bay Area, 1940—2010," interactive media, https://machinesinthevalley.org/visualizations/population/, 2014.