Text Box:          Central Place Theory         

Walter Christaller developed the Central Place theory to explain the size and spacing of cities that specialize in selling goods and services.
The theory consists of two basic concepts:
1) threshold -- the minimum market needed to bring a firm or city selling goods and services into existence and to keep it in business
2) range -- the average maximum distance people will travel to purchase goods and services

Normally, the threshold is found within the range, as the diagram shows. Can you think of examples from the past in Europe and from the United States today in which the range is larger than the threshold yet businesses thrive and market towns temporarily come alive?


  • itinerant merchants in medieval Europe who would sell their wares in a different town each day or two to "collect" sufficient "ranges" to meet or, hopefully, exceed their "threshold" (market) to keep their business going

  • in the US, multi-million dollar businesses have insufficient thresholds because the range for their products are too small; hence, professional athletic teams and popular entertainers with their high income demands travel throughout the country collecting "ranges." Already in the 19th century, catalog companies, like Sears, were already "annihilating" space, as does the internet now.

What problems result from using circles to cover an area? Answer.

Concerning my explanation of central place theory, this is what a student in a human geography course at Oklahoma State University emailed me (4/5/05):

"Dear Dr. Vogeler:
Hi my name is Tiffani.  I am a Freshman at Oklahoma State University.  I am emailing to say Thank You for helping me understand Central Place Theory.  I am at the end of finals week at OSU, and tomorrow ( May 5, 2005 ) I have a Geography final.  My TA is trying to get a Doctorate in Cultural Geography, so at times I think he forgets to fully explain a concept thinking we already know it.  Don't get me wrong, my TA is a good teacher, but he just could not explain The Central Place Theory to where I could understand.  On my final tomorrow there is a 20 pt. question on describing the Central Place Theory and the railroad system involved.  Even after reading the book and his lecture notes I just could not understand the concept. Tonight I surfed the web in a desperate attempt to understand.  I soon came across you website explaining Central Place TheoryAfter 5 minuets of reading through your explanation I FINALLY understood what the theory was all about!  I am the type of person that must understand a concept and base my own opinions on it before I move along, and you sure helped me understand the theory and move on from it. I will be sure to let my TA know about your website and crediting you on my exam (for helping me understand the entire concept) just so he knows I am not copying your exact words.  I really appreciate professors, like yourself, that understand every student in the classroom is not there because they are majoring in Geography, and help the students to understand a topic by breaking it down into smaller bites. I have learned a lot from my Cultural Geography class, and you have helped me learn even more.  I greatly appreciate your explanation.  Please do not think it strange of me to be emailing you a "Thank You" message.  I just wanted to let you know that you have helped a struggling student hundreds of miles away from where you are!
 Thank you again!"

UW-Eau Claire Seal


Created by Ingolf Vogeler on 30 March 1996; last revised on 10 May 2011.