Kansas City, Missouri
United States of America

Introduction

Kansas City, city in western Missouri where the Kansas River (also known as the Kaw) joins the Missouri River. It is the largest city in the state and the core of one of the major commercial, industrial, and financial centers in the Midwest. There are no natural boundaries between it and Kansas City, Kansas, and the two cities’ economies are closely integrated.

Kansas City’s principal asset is its location. Among large American cities, it is the closest to the geographic center of the continent. With excellent rail, river, and freeway connections, the city serves as a transportation crossroads for much of the country’s heartland. In fact, the city refers to itself as “The Heart of America.”

Kansas City developed around two frontier commercial posts located near where the Missouri River makes a great bend toward the east. Kansas City was first christened the Town of Kansas, but in 1853 the town was renamed the City of Kansas, and in 1889 it was officially rechristened Kansas City.

Kansas City has a variable continental climate. Generally the most pleasant weather occurs in the spring and fall. A long period of warm days and cool nights begins in late September and extends through October and November. Severe thunderstorms, cold waves, blizzards, and drought occasionally visit the region, and one or two tornadoes may be expected to hit the metropolitan area each year. The average high temperature in January is 2°C (35°F) and the average low -9°C (17°F); average high in July is 32°C (89°F) and the average low 20°C (68°F). Average annual precipitation is 956 mm (37.6 in); the driest months are November through February. The city’s mean elevation of 229 m (750 ft) has little effect on the climate.

Kansas City and its Metropolitan Area

Kansas City lies on both banks of the Missouri River, covering a land area of 805.0 sq km (310.8 sq mi). It is a community of wide, tree-lined streets and many parks. More than 200 fountains grace the city’s parks, public gardens, and parkways, while statues imported during the 1920s can be found along many boulevards. The city’s historic core is on the south bank of the river, while sections to the north have a suburban character. Numerous bridges connect the two sections of the city. Interstate highways encircle the central business district, known as the downtown loop.

Downtown Kansas City has many of the art deco-style buildings and is the site of four massive steel sculptures that were installed in 1994 atop tall columns above the Bartle Convention Center. Between the downtown and the river to the north is the Kansas City River Market district, formerly called the River Quay, known for its renovated historic loft buildings, specialty restaurants, and nightclubs, as well as its bustling open-air farmers market. The Arabia Riverboat Museum is housed in one of the renovated buildings. Riverboat casinos are a relatively recent addition to the city’s waterfront, opening in the 1990s after the legalization of riverboat gambling. To the south of downtown, the restoration of Westport Square has turned another historic area of the city into a popular dining, entertainment, and shopping district. Further south is Country Club Plaza, one of the nation’s oldest shopping centers and modeled after the architecture of Seville (Seville), Spain.

The Kansas City metropolitan area, known as Greater Kansas City, consists of 11 counties: Jackson, Clay, Cass, Platte, Lafayette, Ray, and Clinton counties in Missouri; and Johnson, Wyandotte, Leavenworth, and Miami counties in Kansas. The population of the region in 2000 was 1,776,000, up from 1,449,000 in 1980. The most intensely urbanized areas are the Missouri counties of Jackson and Clay along with Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas. The outlying counties are more rural and wooded, but they are changing rapidly as the geographic city grows and businesses, industries, and a greater percent of the population move to the urban fringe.

In addition to Kansas City, the largest Missouri cities in the metropolitan region are Independence, (Missouri’s fourth largest city), Lees Summit, and Blue Springs, one of Missouri’s fastest growing commuter communities. Kansas City, Kansas, (the third largest city in Kansas at the 2000 census) and Leavenworth are old established cities on the Kansas side. The fast-growing suburbs of Overland Park, Olathe, and Shawnee are expanding the urban area westward.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Kansas City annexed large areas, so that today it completely surrounds some independent, incorporated cities, including both North Kansas City and Gladstone.

Population

The population of Kansas City declined in the 1980s and grew in the 1990s. In 1980 it had 448,159 people. In 2000 the population was 441,545. The modest decline in population during the 1980s was related to movement from the inner city to the suburbs. Kansas City’s central neighborhoods have suffered population losses for several decades, but Missouri’s liberal annexation laws allowed the city to absorb fast-growing suburban neighborhoods, offsetting the loss from the inner city.

According to the 2000 census, whites are 60.7 percent of the population, blacks 31.2 percent, Asians 1.9 percent, Native Americans 0.5 percent, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.1 percent. People of mixed heritage or not reporting race are 5.6 percent of the population. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 6.9 percent of the people.

As in many United States cities, Kansas City has a number of ethnic neighborhoods that formed where immigrant groups settled. Many of these neighborhoods have been occupied in turn by new groups as the descendants of the earlier immigrants moved up the economic ladder and out to the suburbs. The north side of Kansas City in the vicinity of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church is where many Italian immigrants settled. The West Side, bordering the Armourdale industrial district, is a Hispanic area. Black neighborhoods comprise a large area south of downtown, and the neighborhoods east of the central business district have been mainly black for generations. An extensive area of black and mixed race neighborhoods borders the central business district of Kansas City, Kansas. Many neighborhoods in northeastern Kansas City are inhabited by white working-class people, frequently Protestant and conservative in outlook.

The suburbs to the north in Clay county are a mixed lot. North Kansas City and Riverside are industrial towns. Others are older, stable residential communities, such as Gladston, Liberty, Oakview, Oakwood, Oakwood Park, Oaks, Claycomo, and Pleasant Valley. Independence, built around an old courthouse square, is the largest suburb on the Missouri side. A central city landmark in Independence is the unique spiral tower on the temple of the Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints. The southwest is an upper-middle class to upper-class residential area, where some of the most prestigious neighborhoods were built by the J.C. Nichols Company, a pioneering land development company.

Metropolitan Kansas City is an island of growth in the midst of a large area of declining population. For a century, the city has attracted rural migrants from the surrounding areas, draining the population of counties in western Missouri, eastern Kansas, southeastern Nebraska and southwestern Iowa. Some counties in Kansas City’s hinterland have declined continuously in population since the census of 1890.

Educational and Cultural Institutions

Major institutions of higher education in Kansas City are a branch (established in 1929) of the University of Missouri, Avila College (1916), Rockhurst College (1910), DeVry Institute of Technology (Missouri) (1931), and the Kansas City Art Institute (1885). Schools in neighboring suburbs include Park College (1875), in Parkville, and William Jewell College (1849), in Liberty. Baptist, Nazarene, and Methodist theological schools are also located in the area. Midwest Research Institute, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit research and development organizations, and the adjacent Linda Hall Library of Science and Technology, the largest privately-endowed technical reference library, are located near the University of Missouri campus. In addition, the university houses the Center for TeleComputing Research, considered a top center for telecommunications and computer networking research.

The Kansas City Museum offers exhibits on history and natural history as well as a planetarium and the Challenger Learning Center, which simulates space flight. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art contain extensive collections of artifacts from the ancient world and an outstanding collection of oriental art. In the River Market area is the Arabia Steamboat Museum. It features a working paddle wheel and other restored sections of the steamboat Arabia, recovered from the Missouri River bottoms where it sank in 1856. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum recounts the black baseball teams organized before the major leagues were desegregated and is part of a new complex that also houses the Kansas City Jazz Museum and the Horace M. Peterson III Visitor Center. The home and studio of painter Thomas Hart Benton, known for his vibrant murals, is a state historic site. A library for the papers of Harry S. Truman, part of the National Archives, is located in nearby Independence, hometown of the 33rd United States president.

Kansas City claims to have more professional theaters than any city of comparable size in the United States. There are more than 20 equity and community theaters and numerous theater departments at high schools and colleges in the city. For ongoing performances there is the acclaimed Missouri Repertory Theater. The Midland Center for the Performing Arts features Broadway shows. The Folly Theater, a turn-of-the-century burlesque house, now features plays and concerts. Symphony, opera, and ballet presentations are staged at the Lyric Theater.

Kansas City played an important role in the development of jazz music in the United States. As early as the 1920s, Kansas City jazz had its own distinctive musical style. Some jazz enthusiasts say that Kansas City jazz uses more saxophones and always has background riffs. Kansas City was the home of ragtime composer Scott Joplin and saxophonist Charlie Parker. Count Basie formed his band in the city. In 1997 the Kansas City Jazz Museum opened, with collections focused primarily on the contributions of jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington, as well as Parker and other Kansas City musicians. The facility also includes a live jazz club and is located in the 18th and Vine Historic District, the center of jazz music development. Every August the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, which features nationally known performers and is considered one of the top concert series in the nation, takes place in this historic part of the city..

Recreation

Kansas City residents are avid sports fans. The Kansas City Royals major league baseball team plays in Kauffman Stadium, and the Kansas City Chiefs of professional football play in adjacent Arrowhead Stadium. Both stadiums are part of the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex. The Kansas City area is also headquarters to collegiate sports organizations such as the Big 12 Conference and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Economy

The principal economic advantage of Kansas City is its location at the heartland of America. As a commercial center, Kansas City exerts an economic influence extending northward into the corn belt and westward across the Great Plains. Livestock, grain, and other agricultural products from these areas are shipped to Kansas City for marketing and processing. Kansas City is one of the nation’s leading centers for flour milling and millions of bushels of wheat, corn, and grain sorghum are shipped each year to domestic and foreign markets from the city’s huge grain terminals. Kansas City is the headquarters of Farmland Industries, the largest farmer-owned regional cooperative in the United States. While the nation’s meat packing industry has largely abandoned big city stockyard districts to relocate in smaller cities, metropolitan Kansas City still has a livestock market in the Kaw Bottoms, a main industrial district.

Like many Midwestern river cities, Kansas City is built on two levels. Much of its industry is concentrated in lowlands along the river, where it has easy access to river and rail transportation and inexpensive water for manufacturing processes. The Kansas City business district is on the uplands, as are the residential areas. Most of the manufacturing in Kansas City is carried out in seven main industrial districts. The oldest and largest district, the Armourdale District, also called the West Bottoms and the Kaw Bottoms, straddles the state boundary and extends up the Kaw River into Kansas. The Kansas City Terminal District extends eastward from the Armourdale District to south of the central business district. North Kansas City was developed in 1929 as an industrial suburb of Kansas City, complete with company-owned streets to prevent strikers from picketing in front of the plants. North of the Kaw Bend, on either side of the Missouri River, are the Riverdale and Fairfax industrial areas. The Blue Valley and Sugar Creek industrial areas are on the city’s east side, sandwiched between Kansas City and Independence.

Kansas City is also a wholesale storage and distribution center and an important retail and mail-order market. Underground manufacturing and storage have been developed more extensively in Kansas City than in any other city. Most of the developed underground space is in the Bethany Falls limestone, a rock formation that has been quarried intensively for more than a century. Even a foreign trade zone, where goods from other countries are stored and prepared for distribution before officially entering the United States, is located below ground.

Major nonagricultural manufacturing in the city includes steelmaking, motor vehicle assembly, oil refining, and printing and publishing. The Ford Motor Company (vehicle assembly), GS Technologies (steel production), and Hallmark Cards (greeting cards) are major employers in these groups. Health care is an important employment sector, with major medical schools on both sides of the state line. Kansas City is also of regional importance in the financial sector. It is the headquarters of the Tenth District of the Federal Reserve System, as well as such national companies as H&R Block. In recent years revenues from conventions and tourism have become even more important to Kansas City’s economy. The convention business is centered in the Bartle Convention Center, the Hallmark Center,and in the Kemper Arena. Many business and educational conventions use facilities in the large hotels. Finally, Kansas City is a major Midwestern government center. Much of the city’s workforce is employed by governmental units—local, state, and federal.

Kansas City’s central location has made it a natural transportation hub, a key factor in the city’s economic growth. It is one of the nation’s leading centers for rail transportation, while its port is tied by the Missouri River to the inland water system stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Three national interstate highways—routes 29, 35, and 70—intersect at Kansas City, and several national motor freight carriers have headquarters there. Air transportation is through Kansas City International Airport, located in the northwest of the city. In addition, pipelines link Kansas City to the major oil and natural gas fields of the Southwest.

Government

Kansas City has a council-manager form of government. A professional administrator selected by the city council handles daily operations. The city administrator serves and advises the mayor and city council and is responsible for seeing that the city government is run efficiently and economically. The manager appoints the heads of most departments that serve the residents. The police chief and the director of parks and recreation are appointed by the boards they serve. The 13-member city council is the city’s legislative and policy-making body. Its members, including the mayor, are elected to four-year terms and may serve two consecutive terms. The city is divided into six council districts. Six members of the council are elected from these districts, while six members and the mayor are elected citywide.

Environmental and Political Issues

Kansas City must deal with most of the issues and problems common to large American cities. Some of the pressing problems are deteriorating housing stock in the central city, racial relations, homelessness, traffic congestion, air and water pollution, and the problem of finding money to rebuild and expand the city’s infrastructure and to support social services and cultural activities. Decisions on the funding and location of public facilities and services are persistent political issues. Management of the Missouri River for preservation of wetlands, flood protection, and navigation is a critical issue involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Missouri Conservation Commission, and several municipalities in metropolitan Kansas City. Transportation planning is another critical issue. Through effective planning and promotion, Kansas City hopes to maintain its strong position as a railroad hub, to establish Interstate 35 as a superhighway to the Southwest, and to develop the Kansas City International Airport as a world port of call.

History

The region known as Big Blue Country was occupied by the Kansa, or Kansas, people at the time white settlers first arrived. This peaceful group, which engaged in farming, fishing, and trapping, was quickly displaced when settlers moved into the area.

Kansas City grew from two frontier settlements that developed near the important transportation junction at the Kaw Bend of the Missouri River, where the river turns sharply east on its way across the mid-section of Missouri. In 1821 French fur trader François Chouteau built a trading post near the mouth of the Kansas River to trade with the Native American peoples who visited the area. Flooding soon forced Chouteau to move his trading post to a new spot on the Missouri River near the present-day downtown. In 1835 businessman John C. McCoy developed Westport as a provisioning point on the Santa Fe Trail, locating it where the trail crossed the Big Blue River about 6 km (about 4 mi) south of the present-day city center. He and other investors later purchased Chouteau’s trading post and platted the Town of Kansas.

The importance of transportation to both communities, one dependent on the river and the other on the overland trail, soon began to merge the fortunes of the two towns. For a time Westport was the most important town near Kaw Bend. It grew because of activity associated with the Mexican War (1846-1848) and its location on the route to the California gold fields. Meanwhile, the riverfront community was chartered as the City of Kansas in 1853, and by 1889 it grew sufficiently to annex Westport. The resulting community was named Kansas City.

The year 1869 was a benchmark in Kansas City’s history. In July of that year, the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad bridge was completed, making it the first bridge anywhere across the Missouri River. By the end of the year there were seven railroads in Kansas City. In 1870 the stockyards were built in the Kaw Bottoms and the city’s population reached 32,260. By 1881 there were 15 railroads serving Kansas City. During this period a sizable German population settled along the Missouri River border, and three German-language newspapers were published in Kansas City.

As the 20th century began, Kansas City’s stockyards and packing plants were bustling, and manufacturing had become diversified with the addition of nationally known companies. Large mail-order houses had been established, and Kansas City’s wholesale houses dispatched salesmen into the Corn Belt, throughout the wooded Ozarks, and into the vast western plains. Kansas City had at this time assumed a central banking role. Local banks throughout the Southwest turned to Kansas City to finance the herds of the cattle barons and the expansion of large wheat farms. The city had also become the largest lumber market west of Saint Louis. Residential and commercial growth paralleled the expanding manufacturing base and job growth. Kansas City’s industries diversified further in the early 20th century when automobile assembly plants and other factories were introduced. The garment industry expanded in the industrial area north of the central business district until it ranked second only to that of New York City. Except during the depression of the 1930s, the city’s economy continued to expand and prosper.

Kansas City, like many other U.S. cities, was home to a powerful political machine, in which a political party used political favors to perpetuate its power. The practice often opened the door to corruption. In Kansas City the Pendergast family honed machine politics to near perfection. James Pendergast, a native of nearby Saint Joseph, moved to Kansas City in 1876, opened a saloon, and soon became active in politics. By 1892 Pendergast, whose statue stands today in Mulkey Square, was a power in Democratic Party politics. When he died in 1911 the machine he founded was a major force in Kansas City government, and it continued to control Kansas City elections through the 1930s.

Jim Pendergast’s brother, Tom, followed him to Kansas City in 1890. Tom also entered politics and soon headed the Jackson County Democratic Club, a much larger and stronger political machine than his brother had controlled. With control of the city government, James or “Boss” Pendergast could influence the letting of lucrative city contracts and could convince contractors in the city to use concrete from the company he owned. The power of the Pendergast regime lasted until 1939 when Tom Pendergast was sentenced to prison for income tax evasion. During the Prohibition years in the 1920s, crime increased in Kansas City. Many citizens sought forbidden liquor, providing a ready market for bootleggers and rum-runners who were willing to break the law.

During the 1930s federally sponsored construction projects, intended to provide jobs for those unemployed by the Great Depression, changed the brick and mortar landscape of downtown Kansas City. In this same era several downtown skyscrapers were built, along with the monumental Union Station and the Liberty Memorial. A modern period of development began in Kansas City in the 1980s with the completion of Crown Center south of downtown. Crown Center is one of the nation’s largest privately-funded urban renewal projects. It includes the corporate headquarters of Hallmark Cards, and a large shopping, entertainment, and residential complex.