History of the Kansas City metropolitan area
- 1 Exploration
- 2 Early to mid-1800s
- 3 Mid to late 1800s
- 4 1890s to 1940
- 4.1 Pendergast era
- 4.2 Political history
- 4.3 Personalities
- 4.4 R. A. Long
- 4.5 18th Street & Vine
- 5 Crossroads of the World
- 6 Small Market Major League
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The history of the Kansas City metropolitan area begins in the 19th century as Frenchmen from St. Louis, Missouri moved up the Missouri River to trap for furs and trade with the Native Americans. The Kansas City metropolitan area, straddling the border between Missouri and Kansas at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, was a strategic point for commerce and security. Kansas City, Missouri was founded in 1838 and defeated its rival Westport, Missouri to become the predominant city of west of St. Louis. The area played a major role in the westward expansion of the United States. The Santa Fe, and Oregon trails rain through the area. In 1854, when Kansas was opened to Euro-American settlement, the Missouri=Kansas border became the first battlefield in the conflict in the American Civil War.
The first documented French visitor to the Kansas City area was Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont, who was also the first European to explore the lower Missouri River. He was on the lam from French authorities after deserting his post as commander of Fort Detroit after being criticized for his handling of a Native American attack on the fort. Bourgmont lived with a Native American wife in the Missouri village about 90 miles (145 km) east near Brunswick, Missouri, and illegally traded furs.
In order to clear his name, he wrote "Exact Description of Louisiana, of Its Harbors, Lands and Rivers, and Names of the Indian Tribes That Occupy It, and the Commerce and Advantages to Be Derived Therefrom for the Establishment of a Colony" in 1713 followed in 1714 by "The Route to Be Taken to Ascend the Missouri River." In these documents he described the junction of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, being the first to refer to them by those names. French cartographer Guillaume Delisle used the descriptions to make the first reasonably accurate map of the area.
The French rewarded him by giving him their highest honors and naming him commander of the Missouri. He built the first fort (and first extended settlement in Missouri) in 1723 at Fort Orleans near his Brunswick home. In 1724 he led a group of Native Americans probably up the Kansas River en route to the southwest to set up an alliance with the Commanche to fight the Spanish, thereby creating a New France empire extending from Montreal through Kansas City to New Mexico. To celebrate the success of the venture, he took the Native American chiefs on a junket to Paris to hunt with Louis XV and see the glory of France at Versailles and Fontainebleau.
Bourgmont got promoted to official noble status and stayed in Normandy, not accompanying the chiefs back to the New World. According to legend, the Native Americans then slaughtered everybody in the Fort Orleans garrison. The Spanish took over the region in the Treaty of Paris (1763) but were not to play a major role in the area other than taxing and licensing all traffic on the Missouri River. The French continued their fur trade on the river under Spanish license.
Lewis & Clark era
Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 the Lewis and Clark Expedition left St. Louis on a mission to reach the Pacific Ocean. In 1804, Lewis and Clark camped for three days at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers in today's Kansas City, Kansas (memorialized at Kaw Point Riverfront Park. ). During their stay at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas, they met French fur traders and mapped the area of Quality Hill in future Kansas City, Missouri, calling it "a fine place for a fort."
Because of the burgeoning trade up the Missouri River from St. Louis, especially following Lewis and Clark's expedition, the United States Government sought to create government posts all throughout the area. In 1808, Fort Osage was established twenty miles from the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers near present day Sibley, Missouri.
In 1812, after Louisiana formally became a state, the remaining portions of the original Louisiana Territory north of Arkansas were renamed the Missouri Territory. As plans were made to carve up the territory for the entry of Missouri into the union, it was determined that the line forming the western border of the new state, from Iowa to Arkansas, would be set by the confluence of the Kansas River (Kaw) and the Missouri River. As part of the Missouri Compromise in 1821, Congress admitted Missouri to the union as the 24th state; it was admitted as a slave state. The area of the confluence of the two rivers in the West Bottoms has been subject to floods and changes of course. The border between Kansas and Missouri was set at the mouth of the Kansas River. Since the 1820s, the confluence has now moved about a quarter mile upstream into Kansas.
Early to mid-1800s
Missouri joined the Union in 1821 and, after the Treaty of St. Louis in 1825, the 1,400 Missouri Shawnees were forcibly relocated from Cape Girardeau to southeastern Kansas, close to the Neosho River. In 1826, the Prophet Tenskwatawa established a village in Argentine, Kansas. During 1833, only the Black Bob's band of Shawnee resisted the relocation efforts. They settled in northeastern Kansas near Olathe and along the Kaw River in Monticello near Gum Springs. Tenskwatawa died in 1836 at his village in Kansas City, Kansas (ed., the White Feather Spring marker notes the location).
Early European settlers
The language of the first European settlement in Kansas City was French. In 1821, 24-year-old François Gesseau Chouteau, nephew of René Auguste Chouteau, set up a permanent trading post in the great bend in the Missouri River that makes up the Northeast Industrial District (crossed today by Chouteau Trafficway). He referred to the post as "the village of the Kansa." In 1825, after Indians agreed to leave the westernmost six miles of Missouri to the confluence of the Kansas, the area was referred to as "Chouteau's." In 1826, Chouteau moved his trading post to higher ground, Troost Avenue and the river, following a flood. He also financed the first Catholic church, which was built on Quality Hill.
The area was soon populated by trappers, scouts, traders, and farmers, leading to the incorporation of Jackson County, Missouri, in 1827 and the founding of Independence, Missouri, located approximately 10 miles (16 km) from the river junction, as its county seat. As the number of farmers increased, the fur traders retreated northward. In 1831, Moses Grinter established a ferry on the Kansas River on the old Indian trail by the Kaw's water. Grinter was one of the earliest permanent white settlers in the Kansas City, Kansas, area.
Latter Day Saints
Also in 1831, members of the Latter Day Saint religion (commonly called Mormons) coming from Kirtland, Ohio, and New York State purchased about 2,000 acres (8 km²) of land in the Paseo and Troost Lake areas. Conflict between the Saints and other Missouri residents led to the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County in 1833. Later, various groups of Latter-Day Saints returned to Jackson County, the first of whom were members of the diminutive Church of Christ (Temple Lot), quickly followed by adherents to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints under the leadership of Joseph Smith III and members of other factions, several of whom had established their headquarters in nearby Independence, Missouri. Today, there are notable numbers of Latter-Day Saints in the Kansas City area, which was recently designated as the site of a new temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah), the largest Mormon faction.
Westport and Westport Landing
Over the next years the character of Kansas City was defined by those who wanted to live close to the river (who were referred to as "rabbits") and those who wanted to live in the hills (the "goats"). John Calvin McCoy, who is considered the "father of Kansas City", had a hand in establishing settlements in both locations. In 1833, he opened a trading post in the hills three miles south of the river. McCoy named it "West Port" because it was the last place to get supplies before travelers went into Kansas Territory on the California Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and Oregon Trail. McCoy got supplies from boats that docked at a rocky outcropping on the river at what is Main Street and the river; the area was called "Westport Landing." McCoy's landing and Chouteau's trading post were to drive traffic to the last outpost before settlers traveled up the Kansas River or Missouri River. The road connecting Westport with the trading post and Westport Landing followed Broadway. In 1834, the steamboat John Hancock, which was laden with goods for McCoy, became the first steamboat to dock at the Westport Landing and opened up a new era of communication and transportation for the area.
Town of Kansas
Expansion around the landing was stifled because it was a farm mostly owned by Gabriel Prudhomme. In 1838, McCoy and Chouteau and other merchants formed the "Town of Kansas Company" and purchased Prudhomme's 271-acre (1.1 km2) farm for $4,220. The investors rejected other names for the new town including Port Fonda, Rabbitville and Possum Trot. The following year, in 1839, Chouteau died, and the area outside of Westport Landing was renamed the Town of Kansas
Throughout the 1840s, the population and importance of the Town of Kansas swelled as it and nearby Independence and Westport became starting points on the Oregon, Santa Fe, and California trails for settlers heading west. Between St. Louis and California, the Kansas/Missouri river junction was one of the few substantially populated areas. The first rail travel came to the Town of Kansas in 1847.
Jackson County finally formally incorporated the Town of Kansas on June 3, 1850 (traditionally viewed as the date of Kansas City's founding). Its population was approximately 1,500 people. The first newspaper (the now defunct Kansas City Ledger) and first telegraph service were established in the Town of Kansas in 1851.
City of Kansas
Missouri officially incorporated the city March 28, 1853; it changed the name to the City of Kansas. At the first municipal election in 1853 there were 67 voters from an estimated population of 2,500. The initial incorporated area was about 10 blocks west to east and five blocks north to south. It was bordered by Bluff Road (about I-35 today) on the west, Independence Avenue on the south and Holmes Street on the east and the Missouri River on the north. William S. Gregory became the first mayor but had to resign within 10 months when it was discovered that the mayor actually had to live in the city.
At the time of the City of Kansas's incorporation, Missouri was still a slave state. However, the population was deeply divided over the issue of slavery. In 1854, the United States Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which rejected the 1820 Missouri Compromise and allowed new territories to choose whether they wished to allow slavery, whereas the Missouri Compromise had prohibited slavery in any new states to be created north of latitude 36°30'. Thus, according to the Missouri Compromise, Kansas Territory (located immediately to the west of the City of Kansas, Missouri) had been a free territory but now could choose to permit slavery.
As a result of the new potential for slavery in Kansas, pro-slavery activists infiltrated Kansas Territory from the neighboring slave state of Missouri. To abolitionists and other Free-Staters, who desired Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a free state, they were collectively known as Border Ruffians. Pro-slavery Missourians flocked to Kansas in force, electing a pro-slavery Kansas Territorial Legislature. In response, abolitionists began arriving in the area, and in 1855 they declared the Kansas Territorial Legislature "bogus" and elected their own representatives to form a new territorial government in Lawrence, Kansas (approximately 35 miles (56 km) west of the City of Kansas). The newly established City of Kansas soon found itself in the middle of Bleeding Kansas.
Despite the ongoing conflict, the City of Kansas continued to grow rapidly. It gained a courthouse, city market, and chamber of commerce in 1857. In 1858, however, the local violence had grown so fierce that the Kansas Territorial Governor and the State of Missouri both asked U.S. President James Buchanan to send in federal troops. The president agreed, and with the troops' presence the violence seemed quelled.
Missouri stayed in the Union during the Civil War. However, since the city's first settlers had arrived via the Missouri River from the South, considerable tension existed there between pro-Union and pro-Confederate sympathizers. Missourian Sterling Price was to fight battles in the area at the beginning and end of the war, hoping to incite residents to join the Southern cause. Thus, the City of Kansas and its immediate environs became the focus of intense military activity. The First Battle of Independence resulted in a Confederate victory, but the Southerners were not able to follow it up in any meaningful way, as the City of Kansas was occupied by Union troops and proved too heavily fortified for them to assault.
In 1863 William Quantrill sacked and burned Lawrence, killing 168 people in what was called the Lawrence Massacre. Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., believing that the raid was rooted in the four Missouri counties on the Kansas border south of the Missouri River, promulgated his General Order No. 11 which ordered the eviction of all those living in rural areas outside of designated urban areas, regardless of their loyalty. This order affected those living south of Brush Creek and east of the Blue River and proved a source of resentments that lingered long after the war. The city's first mayor was exiled to St. Louis.
In 1864 Price invaded Missouri in a last-gasp Confederate offensive called Price's Raid. He pushed Union troops out of Independence in the Second Battle of Independence and into the City of Kansas, resulting in the pivotal Battle of Westport in October of that year near Brush Creek. Price was decisively defeated and forced out of the state, ending all significant Confederate military operations in the area.
After the war, Kansas City remained a hotbed for former pro-Southerns. John Newman Edwards founded the Kansas City Times to stringently object to Republican rule. He also created the Jesse James anti-hero myth, with James as a modern-day Robin Hood fighting an unjust Republican Reconstruction. Jesse James went on to rob the Kansas City fairgrounds at 12th Street and Campbell, all the while living at various places throughout the metropolitan area.
Mid to late 1800s
Crossroads of the Country
In 1865 the Missouri Pacific railroad reached Kansas City. At the time Kansas City was similar in population to Independence and Leavenworth, Kansas. That was to change in 1867 when Kansas City defeated Leavenworth (then over twice Kansas City's size) for the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad bridge over the Missouri River. The Hannibal Bridge, designed by Octave Chanute, opened in 1869. With that, the city's population quadrupled in fifty years.
In 1889, with a population of around 130,000, the city adopted a new charter and changed its name to Kansas City. In 1897, Kansas City annexed Westport. The initial meeting of tracks occurred in the West Bottoms in area that had previously been used to outfit travellers on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails who had followed the Kansas River. The biggest outfitting facility was the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. That company went out of business following the collapse of the Pony Express. Its facilities were to become the Kansas City Stockyards. The city became the second (to Chicago) busiest train center in the country (and still is). In 1914, the city's Union Station in the West Bottoms became outdated and the new Union Station was built.
In 1871, the Kansas City Stockyards boomed in the West Bottoms because of their central location in the country and their proximity to trains. They became second only to Chicago's in size, and the city itself was identified with its famous Kansas City steak. In 1899 the American Hereford Association hosted a cattle judging contest in a tent in the stockyards. That event soon became the annual American Royal two-month long livestock festival. The Kansas City stockyards were destroyed in the Great Flood of 1951 and never fully recovered.
In 1887, John G. Braecklein constructed a Victorian home for John and Margaret Scroggs in the area of Strawberry Hill. It is a fine example of the Queen Anne Style architecture erected in Kansas City, Kansas.
1890s to 1940
The Pendergast era, under Democrat big city bosses James Pendergast and Tom Pendergast from 1890 to 1940, ushered in a colorful and influential era for the city. The Pendergasts presided over an era when many outsize personalities shaped the city and contributed to the whole country. During this period, the Pendergasts ensured that national prohibition was meaningless in Kansas City; the Kansas City boulevard and park system was developed; the Country Club Plaza, Country Club District, and Ward Parkway were created; TWA made Kansas City the hub of national aviation; most of the downtown Kansas City buildings were built; its inner city culture blossomed with contributions to the Negro League (baseball), Kansas City jazz (music), Kansas City-style barbecue (cuisine), the stockyards and train station (industry and transportation) was second only to Chicago; and Harry S Truman, from nearby Independence, became President. Much of the construction during these "wide open days" used Pendergast Readi-Mix Concrete, and the era was marked by considerable violence and corruption. Pendergast was ultimately defanged with a 1940 income tax evasion charge.
Kansas enacted statewide prohibition on February 19, 1881. In Kansas City, however, residents on the Kansas side of who wished to drink simply went across the state line to Kansas City, Missouri, to the many saloons and taverns there. 12th Street in Downtown Kansas City was known for its large number of taverns. Despite the ongoing temperance movement, however, Missouri never enacted statewide prohibition. In fact, Missourians actually rejected statewide prohibition in three separate referenda in 1910, 1912, and 1918, all of which were brought by citizens' initiative petitions. In April 1901, famous temperance crusader Carrie A. Nation came to Kansas City and began to enter the saloons on 12th Street and smash liquor bottles with her hatchet. When she entered Flynn's Saloon on April 15, she promptly was arrested, hauled into Police Court (today the Municipal Court of Kansas City), fined $500 ($11,500 in 2006 dollars), and ordered by a judge to leave Kansas City and never return.
When prohibition finally was imposed on Missouri in 1919 by means of the 18th Amendment and the subsequent Volstead Act, Kansas City remained essentially unaffected, mostly due to the Pendergast machine. Thanks to Pendergast, prohibition simply "never existed in Kansas City": Pendergast kept the bars open and the liquor flowing, and Kansas City's federal prosecutor (who was on Pendergast's payroll) never brought a single felony prosecution under the Volstead Act. Dr. George Miller, the editor of the Omaha Herald, even remarked, "If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris. Go to Kansas City." So, when prohibition finally was repealed in 1933 by means of the 21st Amendment, very little changed in Kansas City.
World War I memorial
The Liberty Memorial, which houses The National World War I Museum, was dedicated on November 11, 1926, by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge. In attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony on November 1, 1921, were Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium, Admiral Lord Earl Beatty of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France and General John Pershing of the United States. In 1935, bas reliefs by Walker Hancock of Jacques, Beatty, Diaz, Foch and Pershing were unveiled.
Union Station massacre
Violence and gangster activity proliferated during this time as well. On June 17, 1933, three gangsters attempted to free Frank Nash from FBI custody, but wound up killing him and four unarmed agents. This is known as the Union Station massacre. The gangsters had spent the prior evening at the Hotel Monroe, adjacent to Pendergast's office, and had received assistance in eluding a bribed police force from John Lazia, a major underworld figure with connections to Pendergast.
In 1880, James Pendergast, the oldest son of Irish immigrants, moved to Kansas City's West Bottoms. He worked at a local iron foundry until buying a bar with money he won from betting on a longshot horse ("Climax") at a local race track. From his new bar, Pendergast began networking with local leaders and soon built a powerful faction in the Jackson County Democratic Party. Pendergast's faction was called the "goats" because they were backed by those living in the hills above the river. His chief rival were the "rabbits" because they tended to come from the area around the rivers. The lead of this faction was Joe Shannon.
Just prior to winning his first of nine terms on the city council in 1892, he summoned his youngest brother Tom from nearby St. Joseph. As Jim's health deteriorated, Tom began to utilize many of Jim's connections to lead the "Goat" faction after Jim's death in 1910. Tom succeeded Jim in the council too, but left after three terms but assumed more powerful position as chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Club with its headquarters at 1908 Main Street.
In 1925, Kansas City, Missouri, voted in favor of establishing a city manager-based government with one city council of 12 members instead of two chambers of 32 members total, giving Tom an easier road to gaining majority control. By 1925, the Pendergast machine had established a majority, appointing a passive mayor and powerful city manager Henry McElroy. Pendergast's power grew during the Great Depression, creating a Ten-Year Plan bond plan aimed at putting unemployed Kansas Citians to work building civic structures that still stand, including City Hall, Municipal Auditorium, and the Jackson County Courthouse. These structures, sporting art deco architecture, were built with concrete supplied by Pendergast's Ready-Mixed Concrete company and other companies that provided kickbacks to Pendergast.
At its peak, the machine wielded considerable influence on state politics, handily electing Platte County judge Guy Brasfield Park governor of Missouri in 1932 when the Democratic candidate Francis Wilson died two weeks before the election. Also during this time, Kansas City also became a center for night life and music, with jazz by musicians such as Count Basie, Charlie Parker and blues Kansas City blues flourishing in areas such as 18th and Vine. Pendergast's machine became synonymous with inflating election results by bringing in out-of-town hoodlums to vote for machine candidates repeatedly. The March 27, 1934 municipal elections (dramatized in Robert Altman's 1996 film Kansas City) resulted in nine deaths.
Tom Pendergast's power was brought down by health ailments and a determined effort by reform leaders, capped by Tom pleading guilty to tax evasion on May 24, 1939. Remnants of the machine lingered until the 1950s.
Walt Disney moved to Kansas City with his family in the early 20th century. He attended weekend classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and was said to have been inspired to make the affectionate depiction of a mouse after seeing one in his office in Kansas City. After World War I Disney's first animation efforts were at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City.
Joyce Clyde Hall
J.C. Hall founded Hallmark Cards greeting card company with his brother Rollie in the early 20th century, by first selling Valentines Day cards. He expanded the corporate headquarters into Crown Center shortly before he died in 1982.
Charles Lindbergh helped lure the newly created Transcontinental & Western Airline (TW&A)--later TWA—to locate its corporate headquarters in Kansas City because of the city's central location. During the latter part of the Golden Age of Aviation, the 30s and 40s, TWA was known as "The Airline Run by Flyers." With about 300 employees prior to World War II, the airline eventually employed more than 20,000 people from the metropolitan area.
William T. Kemper
William T. Kemper became the scion for a powerful financial family that had controlling interest of the city's two biggest banks Commerce Bancshares and City Center Bank. The family has influenced financial endeavors throughout the Missouri and Kansas including Kemper Arena and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. William became president of Commerce. One of his sons R. Crosby Kemper controlled United Missouri Banks while the other son James Madison Kemper took over Commerce.
William Rockhill Nelson
William Rockhill Nelson founded the Kansas City Star in 1880 and was to eventually take over its prime competitor the Kansas City Times. Nelson was a big Democratic supporter and urban booster. At the urging of his paper the city built Memorial Hall in 1899 to attract the 1900 Democratic National Convention. The hall burned in early 1900 was rebuilt in 90 days in time for the convention. Nelson left provisions that his house ultimately be torn down to create Nelson-Atkins Gallery of Art.
J. C. Nichols
Beginning in 1906, developer J. C. Nichols created a planned upscale community called the Country Club District, south of Brush Creek. This development is well known for beautiful Ward Parkway, a wide, divided and manicured boulevard that gently slides north and south through the neighborhood. The parkway is lined with several large and attractive homes. In the 1920s, Nichols created the Country Club Plaza, a shopping district and neighborhood along Brush Creek modeled after the city of Seville, Spain. "The Plaza" is the world's first shopping center specifically designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile. In 2008, it is still one of the most popular shopping and dining venues in Kansas City—day and night. Every Thanksgiving evening, throngs of Kansas Citians flock there to watch the traditional Lighting of the Plaza, which kicks off the Christmas shopping season.
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman, who was born in Lamar, Missouri, but grew up in Jackson County, started a haberdashery in downtown Kansas City after World War I. When his business failed, he asked Pendergast for a job and wound up an Eastern Jackson County judge (actually a county commissioner position). Truman was later promoted to Senator. He was one of the few politicians who attended Tom Pendergast's funeral in 1945 just a few days after he became Vice President.
R. A. Long
Robert A. Long (1850–1934) was born in Shelby County, Kentucky. In 1873 Long moved to Columbus, Kansas and with a friend and a cousin, Victor Bell and Robert White, started a hay business. This was unsuccessful but there seemed to be a need for lumber so the three formed the R. A. Long & Company. After the death of Robert White the remaining two formed the Long-Bell Lumber Company in 1887 and the headquarters was moved to Kansas City. This was a very lucrative business and Long became a millionaire. His other milestones achieved were lumber baron, developer, investor, newspaper owner, and philanthropist. He built Longville, Louisiana and Longview, Washington. In 1907 he built the R.A. Long Building, the first steel framed skyscraper, in Kansas City. The building was bought by City National Bank & Trust Company in 1940. Long was a founding member and president of the Liberty Memorial Association that secured funding for the memorial. James M. Kemper was treasurer as well as president of a bank. In 1911 he built Corinthian Hall, a 72 room mansion and in 1914 he built the Longview Farm.
18th Street & Vine
One of the most dramatic developments of the era was the flourishing of the inner city neighborhood of 18th Street and Vine.
The Kansas City Monarchs played at Municipal Stadium (Kansas City) and were one of the premiere Negro Leagues baseball teams with championship teams and stars such as Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil.
Kansas City Jazz
With Kansas City not enforcing liquor laws and clubs allowed to stay open all night, musicians began all night jam sessions after performing in structured big band performances. The Kansas City sound became Bebop that hit the national stage with Kansas City native Charlie Parker.
Henry Perry first introduced a Memphis-style barbecue to the city from his restaurant in the 18th Street and Vine area in the early 20th century. Arthur Bryant (restaurateur) later added more molasses to the recipe when he took over Perry's restaurant. Gates Bar-B-Q which was opened in 1946, by George W. Gates, is the only remaining family owned bar-b-cue. It is also the only sauce and product manufacturer based in Kansas City. The still family owned business is owned and operated by Ollie W. Gates. In 1986, Rich Davis sold KC Masterpiece Bar-B-Q Sauce to the Kingsford charcoal division of Clorox.
Crossroads of the World
The period between the 1940s and the 1970s was a heady time when Kansas City was sometimes considered the crossroads of the world. This was fueled by the Presidency of hometown boy Harry Truman from 1945 through 1953, followed immediately by Kansan Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961. From the 1930s and part of this period TWA, under the leadership of Jack Frye, Paul E. Richter and Howard Hughes as a stockholder, was headquartered in Kansas City. The city planned to turn the cosmopolitan hub into the gateway to the world. But the era's great expectations died down with the diminished presence of TWA.
After the fall of the Pendergast machine, reformer John B. Gage was elected mayor in 1940 and L. P. Cookingham was named city manager. John B. Gage was elected mayor three times and served until 1946, while City Manager Cookingham served until 1959. The Gage and Cookingham government sought to “clean up” Kansas City from its corrupt past and enact “fair” government practices and merit-based hiring of city employees.
The war effort brought defense jobs to Kansas City, which was still suffering from the Great Depression, including the Pratt & Whitney engine plant. Other armaments plants in Kansas City, Kansas and eastern Jackson County provided additional jobs to the region. This was a relatively prosperous time for the city. In 1945, Harry Truman, a resident of Jackson County became President of the United States, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt.
In the mid-1940s, the Gage and Cookingham government began to annex land to expand the city’s size. Annexation programs continued though the 1970s, when the city increased its geographical size to five times its size in 1940. Following World War II, Kansas City, like many older cities, experienced sprawl and population shifts from the city’s core to the suburbs and periphery. While other cities shrank, the newly annexed land helped Kansas City retain its population. Growth since 1970, however, has been limited and often negative, despite a modest population growth in the 1990s.
Since the 1950s, Kansas City has gone through a transition and tried to shed its Cow Town image. This began when Kansas City was at its height of national attention with the back-to-back Presidencies of Harry Truman and Kansas favorite-son Dwight D. Eisenhower. Events of the day saw the heyday of Roy A. Roberts influence as editor of the Kansas City Star.
The change began in the early 1950s with the precipitous decline of the railroad to competition from the automobile and jet travel. Union Station (Kansas City) which had lorded over the second (to Chicago) busiest rail intersection began a rapid decline. The Great Flood of 1951 decimated the Kansas City Stockyards in the West Bottoms. The stockyards (which were also second to Chicago in size) never came back to their full glory as stockyards moved away from urban and unionized centers. In 1955, Kansas City formally began its relationship with major league sports when the Philadelphia Athletics moved to become the Kansas City Athletics playing at Municipal Stadium (Kansas City).
The 1960s were marked by a period of many projects coupled with the rapid urban decay of many inner city neighborhoods. During this period, many historic buildings were demolished to make way for parking lots, and office buildings. The area became primarily for business rather than for everyday city life.
During this inner city decay, Kansas City began to annex land and expand its area. In the process, Kansas City eventually became one of the largest cities in the United States area-wise at 318 square miles (824 km2), while its population decreased by 15,000 from 1950-2000. It is still not uncommon to find cattle and corn fields on the extreme edges of Kansas City. Kansas City in 2000 ranked 21st in the United States in terms of area while #40 in terms of the list of United States cities by population.
In 1967 the Kansas City Chiefs participated in the first ever Super Bowl, losing to the Green Bay Packers. In the same year Charlie Finley got permission to move the Kansas City Athletics out of the 1923-era Municipal Stadium (Kansas City). Kansas City responded to these developments by approving a bond issue to build the Truman Sports Complex on the extreme suburban eastern edge of the city by the I-70 and I-435 intersection. The construction of the complex was so successful that many major league ballparks and football stadiums have been designed in accordance with the Truman Complex master plan, and most have been designed by Kansas City architects.
Also in 1967 work began on the Crown Center complex around the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. Another development in the 1960s was the approval of a bond issue to move the city's main airport from Kansas City Downtown Airport to the TWA Kansas City Overhaul Base at what was formerly called Mid-Continent International Airport—now called Kansas City International Airport (but which is referred to in baggage tags by its original abbreviation of MCI). Although Kansas City continued to expand outward in the 1960s, the inner city endured numerous heartbreaks, fires and the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King. White flight continued on a large scale, ironically, resegregating the city even further than it was before the Civil Rights movement.
The first half of the 1970s was dominated by Kansas City's ambitious urban renewal projects that were showcased when the city hosted the 1976 Republican National Convention. Though these projects did little to bring people back to the city, they removed many historic buildings in favor of more parking, and more office structures, as well as public housing projects.
New Arenas and Teams
After Charlie Finley moved the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland, Missouri Senator Stuart Symington threatened to remove professional baseball's antitrust exemption. Major League Baseball responded by awarding an expansion team to Kansas City which started play in 1969 under Ewing Kauffman. The Royals had winning seasons by 1971 and moved into their new home in the Truman Sports Complex at Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium) in 1973 beginning a decade in which they appeared in the World Series twice (winning once) and winning six American League West division titles. In 1972 the Kansas City Chiefs played their first game at the new Arrowhead Stadium. Ironically, the football Chiefs, who had defined Kansas City in the 1960s and those heady days at Municipal Stadium, went into a decline when they had only two winning seasons between 1974 and 1986.
In 1972 Kansas City acquired the Cincinnati Royals National Basketball Association team to the city with promises of building a new indoor arena. Kemper Arena which was the first major project by architect Helmut Jahn was built in 18 months from 1973 to 1974 on former location of the Kansas City Stockyards in the West Bottoms. Its construction was financed by general obligation bonds, donated land from the stockyards, donations from the American Royal and R. Crosby Kemper Sr. The arena was considered an architectural gem because of how fast it could be built and the fact that with external supports there were no obstructions to sight lines. The Arena was seen as the crowning achievement for luring the 1976 Republican Convention. The Arena also resulted in Kansas City being awarded the National Hockey League expansion team Kansas City Scouts which began playing in 1974.
The Kansas City Downtown Airport built initially during the Pendergast in the Missouri River bottoms immediately north of downtown was convenient. However it lacked room for expansion and jets landing and taking off had to avoid the 200 foot high bluffs, and the neighborhood of Quality Hill at its south edge. TWA, which was headquartered in Kansas City at the time, had an overhaul base with a landing strip surrounded by open farm land 15 miles (24 km) north of downtown in rural Platte County, Missouri. The airport was listed on maps as Mid-Continent International Airport.
In 1966 voters approved a $150 million bond issue to move the city's main airport to an expanded Mid-Continent. However, the city did not annex the area, instead the small town of Platte City, Missouri annexed the airport. Following a series of court battles, Kansas City eventually annexed the airport and selected architect firm Kivett and Myers to design the airport which was dedicated in 1972. Almost all the airlines that were at the old facility moved to the new airport which was renamed Kansas City International Airport to more closely identify it with the city. The international designation was applied because of jets traveling to and from Mexico. The MCI abbreviation remained because it was an existing airport and had already been listed on navigation charts.
One of the most tragic times during this period occurred when a gangland war broke out among members of the Kansas City mafia over control of the newly created (and thriving) River Quay entertainment district (and also control over mob skimming at the Stardust Resort & Casino in Las Vegas). In the process several mobsters were killed and three buildings were blown up in the River Quay which effectively ended its function as Kansas City's entertainment center. The battle was to end the era of mob control of the Vegas casinos.
The River Quay in the City Market area along the Missouri River on the north edge of Downtown Kansas City, had been a 1970s urban renewal project to offer a more family friendly entertainment complex based on the city's of Kansas City Jazz heritage replacing the establishments along 12th Street which had deteriorated into a center for crime, drugs and prostitution. The battle over mob skimming in Las Vegas was highlighted in the book Casino and movie by Nicholas Pileggi.
Although the Kansas City area, which is in Tornado Alley, is usually hit with at least one and often many more tornadoes each year, two major storms that were not tornadoes had profound effects on the city. On September 12, 1977, following a soggy summer, 16 inches of rain fell on Kansas City, flooding the entire region. The most dramatic flooding was in the Country Club Plaza neighborhood along Brush Creek. The storm killed 25 people and did nearly $100 million of damage to property. On June 4, 1979, an evening storm collapsed the roof of Kemper Arena. Nobody was injured as there were no events at it at the time. Initial reports indicated the collapse was the result of a downburst. However an investigation later revealed that storm water had pooled on the roof and then the supports could not handle the heavier roof when coupled with high winds that rocked its exterior skeleton. The arena was repaired and reopened in early 1980.
Small Market Major League
Kansas City's grandiose dreams began to diminish in the 1980s as TWA and the major league hockey and basketball teams left and the NCAA no longer played its Final Four games in the city. The Kansas City Scouts were unable to create the same National Hockey League buzz as the St. Louis Blues and they departed in 1976 to become the Colorado Rockies (which in turn became the New Jersey Devils in 1982). In 1986, the Kansas City Kings left town to become the Sacramento Kings. Kansas City began to settle into the fact that it is one of the smallest markets of major league teams ranking #31 according to its television market. The era from 1980 to the present has been marked by substantial bond issues by the city to protect its past such as Union Station and Liberty Memorial as well as to make major improvements to the airport and sports complex. Kansas City is now experiencing the biggest building boom in downtown since the Pendergast era.
The single most divisive issue in Kansas City in 1980s and 1990s was school desegregation case that was to span three decades, cost millions of dollars, be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and be featured in a CBS 60 Minutes profile about good intentions gone awry. The case began in 1977 when the Kansas City Missouri school district sued its neighboring districts for funds to help it desegregate its schools. In the ensuing court battle, Kansas City's school system itself was put under a federal court judge guidance and the judge then proceeded to order tax increases to improve the quality of the schools as the system built its network of magnet schools including the high schools of Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and Paseo Academy. The battle dragged in the entire state of Missouri as schools outside the metropolitan area argued they should not have to pay for Kansas City schools. Further, Kansas City residents were angered over plans to bus students an hour or more each day over Kansas City's vast area.
At the height of the debate Kansas City Missouri spent more than $11,700 per pupil—the most of any large public school district in the country. Teacher salaries zoomed, teacher-student ratios were 12 or 13 to 1 and some schools were equipped with Olympic size swimming pools, wildlife sanctuaries and model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability. Kansas City Missouri had hoped to stop white flight to attain 35% white enrollment at nearly every school. Instead, over the life of the case minority enrollment has grown from 67% to 84%.  The U.S. Supreme Court in 1995 in Missouri v. Jenkins ruled that the courts had exceeded their authority in the case. The case still continued to work its way back through the courts and in 2003 a federal court judge finally released Kansas City from the judicial oversight.
Hyatt Regency disaster
One of the biggest showcases of Kansas City Metro's rebirth in this era was Crown Center which was being built by Hallmark Cards which is headquartered in the complex by Union Station. The newest addition to the complex was the site of the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in 1981 during a tea dance which had been set up to bring back the magic of Kansas City Jazz. The Kansas City Star, which had been caught flat footed after the Kemper Arena collapse, hired a structural engineer following the Hyatt disaster and wound up winning a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.
Champions of the World
The Kansas City Royals were to boost city morale in 1980 when they played their first World Series (in which they were favored to win but lost) and then in 1985 in the I-70 Series with the intrastate rival St. Louis Cardinals (in which they were underdog to the St. Louis Cardinals but won). The 1985 Kansas City Royals season ended with the Royals' first world championship win over their intrastate rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals won the Western Division of the American League for the second consecutive season and the sixth time in ten years. The team improved their record to 91-71 on the strength of their pitching, led by Bret Saberhagen's Cy Young Award-winning performance. In the playoffs, the Royals went on to win the American League Championship Series for just the second time and the World Series for the first time. Both series were won in seven games after losing three of the first four games. The championship series against the Cardinals was forever remembered by umpires' blown calls: one that cost the Royals a run in the 4th, and a "blown call" in Game Six by umpire Don Denkinger that St. Louis fans claim led to the Royals tying the game. In actuality, the dropped foul ball by Jack Clark had as much or more to do with the Royals rally that inning. Regardless, St. Louis had no answer for Royals pitcher Brett Saberhagen in the following game as KC won it 11-0 and the series four games to three.
Kansas City grew by 6,399 people during the 1990s, ending two decades of population loss. Emanuel Cleaver became the city’s first African-American mayor in 1991, before being elected to Congress in 2004. The opening of the American Jazz Museum, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and refurbishing of Union Station as Science City helped memorialize early 20th century Kansas City. The decade closed with Kansas City electing its first female mayor, Kay Waldo Barnes in 1999.
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- "A History of Kansas City" (KCMO.org)
- Who was Jesse James, and what was his connection to the Kansas City area? Kansas City Public Library
- "Mrs. Nation Fired in Police Court: Judge McAuley Assesses the Joint-Smasher $500 and Orders Her out of Town", The Kansas City World, April 15, 1901
- Kenneth H. Winn, "It All Adds Up: Reform and the Erosion of Representative Government in Missouri, 1900-2000," published by the Missouri Secretary of State
- Ira M. Wasserman, "Prohibition and Ethno-Cultural Conflict: the Missouri Prohibition Referendum of 1918", Social Science Quarterly, Volume 70, pp. 886-901.
- "Mrs. Nation Fired in Police Court: Judge McAuley Assesses the Joint-Smasher $500 and Orders Her out of Town", The Kansas City World, April 15, 1901
- "Mrs. Nation Barred from Kansas City," The New York Times, April 16, 1901
- Allan May, "The History of the Kansas City Family," Crime Magazine, October 10, 2002
- Ken Burns, "Kansas City, a Wide Open Town," from Jazz, PBS, 1997
- bccp.org newsletter 2004 May-June
- cato.org pa-298
- sba.org DID31909 CID448
- Brown, A. Theodore, and Lyle W.Dorsett. K.C. A History of Kansas City, Missouri (1978)
- Brown, A. Theodore. Frontier Community: Kansas City to 1870 (1963)
- Brown, A. Theodore. The politics of reform;: Kansas City's municipal government, 1925-1950 (1958)
- Dorsett, Lyle W. "Kansas City and the New Deal," in John Braeman et al. eds. The New Deal: Volume Two - the State and Local Levels (1975) pp 407–19
- Dorsett, Lyle W. The Pendergast Machine - Kansas City (1968)
- Shortridge, James R. Kansas City and How It Grew, 1822-2011 (University Press of Kansas; 2012) 248 pages; historical geography
- Kansas City history database from the Kansas City Public Library
- Sween, The Kansas City Star's 125th Anniversary homepage
- "Pictorial History of Kansas City and Wyandotte County Kansas". August 2000.
- Vintage Kansas City.com
- Murrel Bland, History of Wyandotte County
- William G. Cutler, "History of the State of Kansas", Kansas City, Kansas.
- TWA history
- Sheraton Suites Country Club Plaza