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Plato, Missouri Deemed 'Population Center of USA'

A small town in southern Missouri is the population center of the country. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore explains what that means exactly.

The south-central town of Plato—as in the Greek philosopher—has been buzzing for weeks in preparation a special Monday ceremony. The tiny incorporated village is center of the United States’ population—that’s according to the US Census Bureau. But what does that mean, exactly? Well, picture this: imagine a flat map of the USA with all of its 308 million residents weighing exactly the same. The point at which that map would balance perfectly—the center—is the mean center of population…in this case, Plato, Missouri.

"I think the first time we saw it, it came out in a St. Louis newspaper,” said Leon Slape, who is the superintendent of Plato School District.

“People started saying, ‘What?’ They couldn’t believe it. Then, they went for a few weeks because it was not official yet from Washington. Then, it became official, so then we had quite a bit of media attention,” he said.

Slape attended a ceremony Monday, in which kids waved flags and held up signs. It included the director of the US Census Bureau, Dr. Robert Groves, as well as a music presentation.

“It started off with the school band. We had a fourth grade choir that sang ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ A high school choir sang “Across the Wide Missouri,’” he said.

Students had special t-shirts made with the logo: “We were lost, but now we’re found.”

Plato itself consists of a day care through 12th grade school, a bank, a post office, a fitness center, and one restaurant. The Plato post office and school serve a wide and very rural area, spanning three counties and eight other small villages.

Slape said the event has brought an already tight-knit community together. Since the first U.S. census was taken in 1790, the population center of the United States has gradually progressed westward from Maryland to Missouri. Plato is the fourth consecutive Missouri community to be termed the center of the U.S. population.

And Slape said Plato residents are thrilled that their town has grown since the last census: from 74 people to 109.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.