updated March 7, 2013 – Once upon a time, data was, well, a little boring – and, often, overwhelming. Numbers… tables… more numbers. Now, through the use of data visualization tools, some of which are even interactive, the U.S. Census Bureau has breathed new life into several series of historical demographic data.

In many instances, a picture – graph, map, chart, or other visual representation of data – can tell a story with more far impact than numbers alone. Add an interactive component, and you are simply at a whole new level of “wow.” But don’t take our word for it. Take a few of them for a test drive. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • The State-by-State Migration data visualization tool (for the 12 most populous states in the U.S.) shows total in- and out-migration, net gain and net loss.
  • The Coastline County Population tool shows the shift in population density from coastline cities to interior cities along with the growth of infrastructure in the U.S. from 1776 through the present. Users can slide the arrow along the timeline at the bottom of the graph to watch the changes in coastline versus interior population growth across the country. In a word: impressive.
  • Or how about this one? Between 1790 and 1890, the number and size of U.S. cities grew dramatically, as this data visualization tool, Increasing Urbanization, clearly illustrates.
  • Second Cities: Keeping Pace with New York is a graph that shows how other cities’ populations have compared in relation to New York City’s – which has remained number one since 1850. Watch how various cities held second place until a certain point in history, when Chicago took reigns as the “second city,” until it was knocked out of that position in recent decades.
  • Interstate Highway 90 runs all the way from Boston to Seattle, passing through some very remote parts of the country. Just how remote? The I-90 Population Density Profile allows users to slide the arrow in the middle of the page to run the pointer from west to east to see the 2010 population of cities along the way.

The Census Bureau launched its Data Visualization of the Week feature earlier this year in an effort to expand the use of its data by the public. By definition, a data visualization tool is any graphic representation of data, which can range from a simple two-dimensional chart to a dynamic, interactive map or other image that represents the data or statistics.

Data Visualizations of the Week are released on Thursdays of most weeks, with the exceptions of holidays. They are compiled and available in the Census Bureau’s Data Visualization Gallery.