Credit a clever cartoonist in Massachusetts for coining the term gerrymander in 1812, though the practice of drawing district maps to create political advantages was common practice long before then. The cartoon published by the pro-Federalist Boston Gazettecriticized legislative maps orchestrated by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry for the benefit of his Democratic-Republican Party over the Federalists. One district resembled the shape of a salamander. The cartoon depicted the district as a monster, labeling it “The Gerry-mander.” Merriam-Webster now definises gerrymander this way: “to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”
The abuse of gerrymandering has grown worse over the last several years, enabled in part by a series of law changes, court decisions and one-sided elections – plus the introduction of sophisticated computer mapping programs that make it easier than ever to manipulate the process.
Drawing district boundaries became more controversial in the early 1900s. Until then, as the country grew, seats were added to the House, increasing from the original 65 to 391 by 1911.
Congress capped the U.S. House at 435 members in 1911, but temporarily allowed the number to reach 437 to accommodate the addition of Hawaii and Alaska as states between redistricting periods.