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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Census shows slightly shrinking city, dismaying boosters

Spokane’s official 1920 U.S. Census count was released, and it was a shocker.

It showed that Spokane had actually lost 198 people since 1910, for a total of 104,204.

Spokane had long considered itself a booming city. From 1900 to 1910, the population had nearly tripled, and most had expected another significant increase.

Spokane boosters were so shocked by the 1920 number that they immediately accused the Census Bureau of a mistake. The local census supervisor vigorously denied it.

“The 1920 census is accurate and complete,” he said. “It is disappointing when the 1920 figures are placed alongside the 1910 figures, but … no complaints have been received and everything has been regular so far.”

He implied that if anything was inaccurate, it was the 1910 census.

Mayor Charles Fleming agreed, saying that he believed the actual increase from 1910 to 1920 was about 15,000 people. A former mayor, Herbert Moore, said that in previous decades Spokane had a lot of “floaters” from the mines and logging camps. “They were transients, pure and simple, but they were counted.”

The Spokane Daily Chronicle’s editorial page said it was best to just “laugh at the census numbers.” (The final 1920 count would later be modified slightly to 104,437, just barely above the 1910 count.)

The president of the Old National Bank refused to be indignant about the whole thing.

“We’ve gotten way past the idea that quantity means anything,” he said. “We should have outgrown the idea of how big we are, and think of how classy we are.”

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