The geographic distribution of significant figures from the United States reflects the rapidly changing settlement of the country. The East Coast dominates, inevitably, because hardly anyone lived anywhere else for much of the nation's history. If I could show you a map of America's significant figures in the last half century, it presumably would look much different from the first half of 20C, just because the population shifted so radically westward throughout 20C. With that in mind, the figure below is offered as a summary of the story from the founding to 1950.
The states that are colored represent the origins of 90 percent of the American significant figures. The small dark blue slice running in an arc from Portland, Maine, to the southern tip of New Jersey encompasses the origins of about 50 percent of them. The light blue wedge encompasses another 25 percent, and the gray fills out the remaining 15 percent. Even after factoring in the history of American expansion, the primary concentration along the northeastern coast of the United States and the secondary concentration in the belt stretching to the Mississippi is striking.
An even more striking aspect of the map is the white space covering the American South. Although more lightly populated than the North, the American South had a substantial population throughout American history. In 1850, for example, the white population in the South was 5.6 million, compared to 8.5 million in the Northeast. In 1900, the comparison was 12.1 million to 20.6 million. By 1950, the gap had almost closed — 36.9 million compared to 37.4 million. While it is understandable that the South did not have as many significant figures as the North, the magnitude of the difference goes far beyond population. The northeastern states of New England plus New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey had produced 184 significant figures by 1950, while the states that made up the Confederacy during the Civil War had produced 24, a ratio of more than 7:1.
The scatter plots on the following page show the way in which the American significant figures break down over the three half centuries from 1800-1950.