100 years of change: comparing the 1920 Montana census to 2020
Growing up in Butte, we always hear the stories that revolve around uptown Butte during the 1920s. Some believable, some not so much so. But it is continually said that at one point in the 1920s over 100 thousand people lived on the hill.
Our last national census was conducted in 2020, and I think we all witnessed how hard it is to try and count everyone, and that is with modern tools to help. I’m trying to imagine how impossible it had to be to get an accurate population count in 1920.
So, the official number from the 1920 US Census said that Montana had 548,225 people. The largest county was Silver Bow County with 60,313 residents, and Butte was listed as the largest city in Montana with 41,611 residents.
Our ‘sister city’ in many ways, Anaconda, was listed with a population of 11,608 in that 1920 census.
Other notable populations from that 1920 tally include:
Great Falls – 24,121
Missoula – 12,608
Bozeman really surprised me, I had to look up the number elsewhere. Gallatin County had a listed population of 15,864 but no mention of Bozeman. The idea that Bozeman wasn’t considered a “Principal City” 100 years ago is difficult to fathom.
That said, Bozeman is the current “Principal City” with the largest increase in the last century. The city has grown by 860% to 53,293 people.
Billings has ballooned by 756% to 117,116.
Missoula is up to 73,489, (582% growth)
Great Falls has seen 251% growth to 60,442 residents.
That brings us to Butte and Anaconda, again very much in this together. From 1920 until 2020 Butte’s ‘listed’ population has fallen from 41,611 to 35,133, 84% of its high-water mark.
Anaconda’s population has dropped by 18% over the century, from 11,608 to 9,421.
Lastly, I mentioned earlier the state population in 1920 was listed at 548,889. The 2020 census showed our total population at 1,084,225 just under 200% growth in a century.
What will the next 100 years bring?