Bloomington leaders celebrated when the city was designated in the 1910 Census as the mean center of population for the United States. It gave them a powerful tool for promoting commercial investment in Bloomington. As calculated by the Census Bureau, the mean center is the point of balance if every person’s location in the United States was a weight of identical mass on a weightless, rigid and flat representation of the country.
The geographic center in 1910 happened to fall just feet from the doorstep of the Showers Furniture Co., which at the time claimed to be the largest furniture factory in the world, employing more than 500 people and producing more than $1 million worth of goods annually. According to newspaper accounts, the company made sure that everyone knew where the suddenly “historic” spot was, and one Showers employee risked serious injury in order to shine a spotlight upon the achievement.
A front-page story in the Daily Telephone newspaper of October 11, 1911, revealed that the Showers Co. was preparing “the most pretentious reception and honor that has ever been afforded the center of American population.”
The article stated that the company was spending “no less than” $1,000 (almost $30,000 today, adjusted for inflation) to mark the exact spot, which was just south of the wall of a building fronting Eighth Street.
Plans called for the construction of a concrete platform 10 feet by 12 feet and two feet high. On the center of the platform was a circular block of Oolitic stone, with the words “Center of Population U.S.A. 1910 Census” cut into its front and top and outlined in gold leaf. A flagpole in the center of the stone extended to a height of 75 feet, topped by a large American flag. Below the flag was a pennant reading “Center of Population U.S.A. 1910.” Another block of Oolitic stone on the front of the platform was carved with the words “Showers Bros. Co,” and the whole thing was designed so that visitors could stand on the actual center of U.S. population.
To make sure that the platform couldn’t be missed, a 120 candlepower electric light (roughly 100 watts) was mounted on the flagpole. It was this feature that nearly caused a tragedy involving one Showers employee.
In a separate front-page story of the same day, the Daily Telephone reported that office worker Loyd Back fell from a second story window as he attempted to turn a switch on the flagpole to illuminate the platform. The newspaper stated that Back lost his balance while leaning out of the window and fell to the ground, wrenching his back and requiring a trip to the doctor.
Back recovered and went on to a career in advertising that took him to Chicago and Terre Haute, according to records found at ancestor.com.
Sources: Promotional booklet of the Bloomington Commercial Club, 1912; Bloomington Daily Telephone newspaper, October 11, 1911; and Census and death records found at Ancestor.com. Definition of mean population center from the U.S. Census Bureau website.