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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Chronology - The Modern Era, 1920-present


The 1920 census shows a population of 105,710,620, and a general urbanization of the nation. Less than half of the people live in the country. The number of farm residents has fallen below 30 percent of the overall population.
1920 First transcontinental airmail service begins (to San Francisco).
The Census Bureau reports that 51 percent of Americans live in towns of more than 2,500.
Congress passes the Emergency Quota Act, restricting entrance to only 3 percent of a given nationality’s American population in the year 1910. This sets a new limit of 358,000 immigrants per year.
The Agricultural Credits Act makes loans available to farmers.
The Johnson-Reed Act establishes more severe limitations and regulation of immigration than the previous Emergency Quota Act of 1921. New quotas are based on 2 percent of the population of each ethnic group present in 1890. This will particularly affect East European immigrants and completely bars Asian immigration to the United States.
The sun craze has swollen Florida’s population past a million, causing a housing shortage and a frenzy of land-buying.
Statistics put the nation’s population at 122.7 million. New York is still the largest city, but the most spectacular growth has occurred in the Far West. Los Angeles has become the fifth most populous city. Arizona has experienced the most rapid growth among the states. Only the state of Montana has lost population. The census shows that while first-generation Irish and Jewish immigrants tended to settle in poor inner-city slums, the next generation is moving out to the more affluent suburbs.
In January, the President’s Emergency Committee for Employment announced that the number of unemployed in the United States now stands between four and five million.
In Washington, D.C., the Commission on Social Trends reports that the automobile has “erased boundaries” between city and country life.
Congress passes the National Housing Act, creating the United States Housing Authority to make low-income housing more affordable.
The South has 21 percent of America’s population, but it earns only 9 percent of the national income. It has the most farms of any region, but the average acreage is the smallest, thus producing less income.
The nation’s population has climbed to 131.6 million. The illiteracy rate is only 4.2 percent. 30 million homes have radios, and 33 percent of farms now have electricity. California is the new home for many former Oklahomans and Dakotans, following the dust bowl era. New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas are the most populous states. Nevada has the lowest population.
Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, America declares war on Japan. In keeping with the terms of their Tripartite Pact, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.
110,000 Japanese-Americans are imprisoned in camps within U.S. boundaries.
Germany and Japan surrender, ending World War II.
4 million veterans are taking advantage of the housing, business and educational opportunities afforded by the G.I. Bill which was initiated in 1942.
The first census since World War II shows that urbanites make up 64 percent of the population, now at 150.6 million people. There are only 5.4 million family farmers.
The United States sends troops to back South Korea against North Korea.
Immigration quotas are set by Congress in the Immigration and Naturalization Act over the president’s veto. Quotas are to be based on national origin percentages as of 1920. Total immigration is to be limited to 154,657 a year. Visas will be allotted with priority given to foreigners with “high education, technical training, specialized experience, or exceptional ability.”
A major new U.S. highway system is planned for over the next 10 years. The number of American families who own a car has risen to 70 percent and the highway system is being expanded to handle the load. Provisions will also be made to help local “farm-to-market” travel.
Intervention by federal troops is required to bring about integration at the Little Rock Central High School.
Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th states, the first new states since 1912.
Population is now at 179,323,175. Greatest gains have occurred in California, Nevada, Florida, Alaska, and Arizona. The number of women over 14 who work is up from 25 percent in 1940 to 34 percent.
Two Americans have hurtled into space in this year—Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil “Gus” Grissom.
National Guardsmen under federal orders escort two Negro students into the University of Alabama despite the Alabama governor’s vow to block integration.
California has surpassed New York as the nation’s most populous state. Traditional late summer migration to the West has put California ahead.
The Civil Rights Act passed by Congress provides measures and agencies to combat inequities based on race, sex, color, religion or national origin.
Race riots inflame New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit.
The Vietnam War: The United States has gone from an advisory to a combat role and from a defensive strategy to an offensive one.
The nation’s population stands at 203,184,772. The biggest increase was in the South (8 million). The largest Asian group is the Japanese, followed by the Chinese. Of 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, 817,000 live in New York.
Early in the year, an official cease-fire agreement effectively ends the American combat role in the Vietnam War.
The Commission on Civil Rights reports that Southern schools are more integrated than their Northern counterparts. Resistance to racial mixing is stiffer in the North, as evidenced by recent violence in Boston, Detroit, and Denver over school busing.
Northern city dwellers are moving South at an unparalleled rate. The Sun Belt has grown twice as fast as the North over the last 25 years. Florida has doubled its population since 1960; Arizona shows a growth rate of 25 percent over the last five years. Defense contracting is centered in the Sun Belt.
Businesses are attracted by low wage scales and tax bills. From 1967 to 1972, manufacturing employment increased 7 percent in the Sun Belt, while dropping 12 percent in the North. Southerners are benefiting from a $13 billion net gain in federal funds after taxes while Northerners lose $20 billion.
There are 226,504,825 people in the United States. Los Angeles is the first city in the nation where the bulk of the population is made up of Latin Americans and Asians. 70,000 Arabs live in Detroit; Boston is the center for Albanian Americans; Chicago for Bosnian Muslims; New Jersey for Cossack Ukrainian groups; Miami for Cubans. More than a million people have migrated from Central and South America since 1820. Also, since 1820, over 500,000 West Indians have arrived. Chinese make up 7 percent of Hawaii’s population.
The number of middle-class blacks in America more than doubled between 1969 and 1984 according to an article in Ebony magazine. According to the author, nearly half of all white families are middle class, but only about 30 percent of black families are in this category.
Early estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau put the population at 251,394,000 with computers used for the first time. For the first time an attempt was made to count the nation’s homeless population. One in four Americans is a member of a minority group. Asians and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing group with 2.9 percent of the population. Hispanics make up 9 percent of the population and blacks make up 12.1 percent.
The U.S. goes to war with Operation Desert Storm and frees Kuwait.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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  • This page was last modified on 16 September 2014, at 20:22.
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