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How Old Is the City of Los Angeles?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 17, 2024
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Los Angeles, or L.A., is one of the oldest cities in North America. While the official foundation date is 1781, Los Angeles has been around far longer than that. Human bones dating back to 13000 B.C. have been found in the area, including the remains of the Arlington Man, the oldest set of human bones ever found in North America.

The first inhabitants of the area were Native Americans, such as the Tongva tribe, who were there long before Spanish explorers arrived in 1542. After a brief exchange between explorers and locals, California didn't see any Europeans again until the late 18th century. By then, missionaries had established the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel near what's today known as the San Gabriel Valley. With only 46 original inhabitants, the settlement remained unknown until King Carlos III of Spain ordered the foundation of a town in the area.

The town was named "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula" and it remained small despite efforts to make it a cattle ranching center. By 1790, the population had grown to little over 130 inhabitants. Because Los Angeles was part of Mexico at the time, most of the local population consisted of settlers of mixed race (mulatto and Negro) who were looking for a way to start a life away from the racial issues that plagued big cities.

Before the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, United States troops had already taken control of Los Angeles and suppressed several revolts and raid attempts. Los Angeles was officially incorporated as a city on 4 April 1850, with the existing population reaching 1,610.

The Gold Rush brought thousands of adventurers to the area, but most of them were not looking to settle. The arrival of these people did, however, improve the local trade, especially for cattle ranchers, who grew richer despite the shifting market. After the Gold Rush era was over, people eventually settled in Los Angeles and surrounding area, and the population grew 300 percent over the course of a decade.

After the 1900s, Los Angeles's population grew at a staggering pace, reaching nearly four million as of 2016. Because of its history, Los Angeles remains one of the most racially diverse cities in the United States.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By anon16306 — On Aug 03, 2008

You can't really say a city began in 13,000 BC just because bones were found at the site dating to that time. If you could, almost any city could be considered to have been "founded" in prehistoric times. We don't know that the people of 13,000 BC formed a government in the Los Angeles area or that it continued to present time.

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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