Wichita 1900-1949 Did You Know

Wichita's Transformation: The Early 20th Century

Wichita, a city always flying on the wings of innovation and community, has a history dating back far beyond its current status as the Air Capital of the World. The first half of the 20th century was a period of significant growth and transformation for Wichita, laying the groundwork for the city we know today. From the early days of aviation to the challenges and triumphs of the World Wars, Wichita’s story during 1900-1949 is full of interesting facts and milestones.

Dawn of Aviation in Wichita

The early 1900s marked the beginning of Wichita’s long-standing relationship with aviation. During this time Wichita started to earn its title as the “Air Capital of the World.” The establishment of key aviation companies, including Travel Air Manufacturing Company in 1925, founded by Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech, and Lloyd Stearman, positioned Wichita at the forefront of the aviation industry.

This era also saw the birth of the Cessna Aircraft Company and the emergence of Beechcraft in 1932, further cementing Wichita’s place in aviation history. The city’s skies became a testing ground for aircraft shaping the future of flight.

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1900-1949 Did You Know...

1. 1906: The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, known as St. Mary’s Cathedral, began construction in Wichita.
2. 1914-1915: Oil was discovered near Wichita, significantly impacting the local economy and aviation industry.
3. 1914: W.C. Coleman produced the first Coleman lantern in Wichita, a significant event in the history of outdoor recreational equipment.
4. 1917: The Cessna Comet, Wichita’s first aircraft, was built, marking the beginning of the city’s prominent role in aviation.
5. 1920: Emil Matthew “Matty” Laird built the Laird Swallow in Wichita, the first successful commercial airplane manufactured in the U.S.
6. 1920s: Key aviation pioneers like Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, and Clyde Cessna started their aircraft companies in Wichita.
7. 1925: Fred C. Koch joined Keith-Winkler Engineering in Wichita, later leading to the formation of Koch Industries.
8. 1927: Fred C. Koch developed a more efficient thermal cracking process for turning crude oil into gasoline in Wichita.
9. 1927: Stearman Aircraft, founded by Lloyd Stearman, relocated its factory back to Wichita.
10. 1929: By this year, Wichita had emerged as the nation’s highest-volume producer of aircraft.
11. 1932: St. Mary Orthodox Church was founded in Wichita.
12. 1930s: Construction of the Wichita Municipal Airport began, but was interrupted by the Great Depression.
13. 1930s: Wichita became a significant center for the manufacturing of Stearman (Boeing) Model 75 trainer aircraft.
14. 1940s: Wichita Municipal Airport site also hosted the Wichita Army Airfield and Boeing Airplane Company Plant No. 1.
15. 1941: The Barnsdall Refinery, one of the several in Wichita, was operational.
16. 1944: The Boeing B-29 assembly line was in full swing in Wichita.
17. 1945: In February, the 1000th B-29 Superfortress delivery ceremony took place at Boeing in Wichita.
18. 1940: Koch Industries, initially as Wood River Oil and Refining Company, was established.
19. 1947: Wichita State University’s football team had its first bowl game appearance.
20. 1949: The Wichita Braves, a minor league baseball team, was formed, showcasing the city’s sports culture.
21. 1900: Wichita’s growth was continuous and rapid after 1900, with population surpassing 100,000 in the 1920s.
22. 1901: The Commercial Club was founded, which later became the Chamber of Commerce.
23. 1912: The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, or St. Mary’s Cathedral, was consecrated.
24. 1917: The last of the original Wichita oil refineries closed, marking the end of an era in the city’s industrial history.
25. 1920s: Seven more refineries were built in Wichita, although only three were still operating by the end of the decade.
26. 1920s-1930s: Wichita experienced significant growth due to the establishment of aircraft manufacturing companies including Beechcraft, Cessna, and Stearman Aircraft.
27. 1923: The Laird Swallow production ended, after 43 aircraft were built between 1920 and 1923.
28. 1925-1932: Fred C. Koch and his company faced 44 different lawsuits from larger oil companies, a pivotal moment in the history of Koch Industries.
29. 1927: Wichita Municipal Airport’s ground was purchased, although its construction was delayed due to the Great Depression.
30. 1929: Several more aircraft manufacturers emerged in Wichita, reflecting the city’s growing dominance in the aviation industry.
31. 1930s: The terminal and runways of Wichita Municipal Airport were completed as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects.
32. 1930s: Wichita produced a significant number of Stearman (Boeing) Model 75 trainer aircraft, contributing to its aviation legacy.
33. 1940: Wichita’s Koch Industries was originally established as the Wood River Oil and Refining Company.
34. 1940s: Wichita was a major center for the production of military and commercial aircraft during this decade.
35. 1944: Wichita’s role in World War II was highlighted by the operation of the Boeing B-29 assembly line.
36. 1945: The Wichita Army Airfield and Boeing Airplane Company Plant No. 1 were key features of the Municipal Airport site.
37. 1949: The Wichita Art Museum was established, beginning with the Roland P. Murdock Collection .
38. 1940s: McConnell Air Force Base began as the Municipal Airport site in Wichita, later becoming a military facility in the 1950s.
39. 1940s: Wichita was instrumental in the production of the B-29 Superfortress, especially notable during World War II.
40. 1949: The Wichita Braves, a minor league baseball team, was formed, adding to the city’s sports culture.
41. 1900s: Wichita became a major oil center after oil was discovered nearby in the early 1900s
42. 1903: Wichita High School East, the city’s oldest high school, was established.
43. 1905: The first movie theater in Wichita opened, marking the beginning of the city’s entertainment industry.
44. 1910: The first public park in Wichita, Riverside Park, was established.
45. 1912: The Wichita Symphony Orchestra was founded, enhancing the city’s cultural scene.
46. 1916: The first public library in Wichita opened, providing a significant community resource.
47. 1919: The first radio station in Wichita began broadcasting, expanding the city’s communication network.
48. 1921: The Wichita Falls & Southern Railroad was established, improving the city’s connectivity.
49. 1923: The first municipal airport in Wichita, known as “The Air Capital of the World,” was opened.
50. 1924: Wichita hosted its first professional baseball game, highlighting the city’s sports culture.
51. 1926: The first high-rise building in Wichita, the Bitting Building, was constructed.
52. 1928: The Wichita Municipal Zoo opened, though it closed a few years later.
53. 1930: The population of Wichita surpassed 100,000, highlighting its rapid growth.
54. 1931: The first talking movie was shown in Wichita, reflecting advancements in the entertainment industry.
55. 1933: The Wichita Municipal University (now Wichita State University) was established.
56. 1935: The first major flood in Wichita’s history occurred, impacting the city significantly.
57. 1937: Wichita’s Joyland Amusement Park opened, becoming a major local attraction.
58. 1940: The first television broadcast in Wichita took place.
59. 1943: Wichita played a key role in the production of military aircraft during World War II.
60. 1948: The Wichita Vortex Sutra, a significant literary work by a local author, was published.
61. 1902: Wichita’s first electric streetcar system was introduced, modernizing the city’s public transportation.
62. 1904: The iconic Douglas Avenue Bridge, a major thoroughfare in Wichita, was constructed.
63. 1907: The first airplane flight in Wichita took place, marking the beginning of the city’s aviation history.
64. 1908: The Wichita Carnegie Library, funded by Andrew Carnegie, was opened to the public.
65. 1911: The first major theater in Wichita, the Forum Theater, was established.
66. 1913: Wichita’s first skyscraper, the Carey Hotel, was built, symbolizing the city’s growing prosperity.
67. 1915: The founding of the Wichita Rotary Club, the first service club in the city.
68. 1918: The first municipal golf course in Wichita was established.
69. 1922: The establishment of the Wichita Art Association, fostering the local art community.
70. 1925: Wichita’s first commercial radio station, WEAU (now KNSS), began broadcasting.
71. 1929: The stock market crash affected Wichita’s economy, leading to changes in the city’s industrial landscape.
72. 1932: The Wichita Municipal Rose Garden was opened, adding to the city’s green spaces.
73. 1934: The construction of the Allis Hotel, one of Wichita’s most prominent hotels at the time.
74. 1936: The Wichita Municipal Stadium was built, enhancing the city’s sports infrastructure.
75. 1938: Wichita experienced a significant snowstorm, one of the heaviest in its history.
76. 1941: The introduction of the Wichita Transit System, improving the city’s public transportation network.
77. 1942: During World War II, Wichita’s aircraft factories played a crucial role in producing military planes.
78. 1946: The establishment of the Wichita Historical Museum, preserving the city’s rich history.
79. 1947: The Wichita Community Theatre was founded, contributing to the local performing arts scene.
80. 1949: The completion of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Wichita, providing medical services to veterans.
81. 1905: The first golf course in Wichita, the Wichita Country Club, was established.
82. 1914: Wichita High School East began its football program, marking the start of a long-standing tradition.
83. 1920: Wichita hosted its first professional boxing match, showcasing the city’s interest in diverse sports.
84. 1922: The Wichita Wolves, a minor league baseball team, were formed.
85. 1925: Wichita’s first public golf course opened, making the sport more accessible to the general public.
86. 1930: Wichita State University (then Municipal University of Wichita) formed its first official basketball team.
87. 1934: The Wichita Monrovians, an African American semi-professional baseball team, played their first game.
88. 1935: Wichita State University’s basketball team participated in its first postseason tournament.
89. 1938: The construction of Lawrence Stadium (now Eck Stadium) at Wichita State University began.
90. 1940: Wichita State University’s football team had its first winning season.
91. 1941: The first night baseball game was played in Wichita.
92. 1942: During WWII, Wichita State University suspended its football program due to the war effort.
93. 1944: The Wichita State University football program resumed after a brief hiatus during the war.
94. 1945: Wichita hosted a major regional track and field event, drawing athletes from several states.
95. 1946: The Wichita Vickers, a semi-professional basketball team, was established.
96. 1947: Wichita State University’s football team participated in its first bowl game.
97. 1948: The Wichita Wind Surge, a minor league baseball team, played their inaugural season.
98. 1949: Wichita State University’s basketball team made its first appearance in the National Invitational Tournament.
99. 1949: The Wichita Braves, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Boston Braves, was formed.
100. 1949: Wichita hosted its first major golf tournament, the Wichita Open.
101. 1900: William Allen White, a renowned journalist and political advisor, was actively writing editorials in Wichita.
102. 1903: Clyde Cessna, who would become a famous aviation pioneer, moved to Wichita this year.
103. 1911: Vera Miles, an actress who would gain fame in Hollywood, was born in Wichita.
104. 1914: Barry Harris, a notable jazz pianist, was born in Wichita.
105. 1916: Sam Moore Walton, the future founder of Walmart, was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, but spent much of his early life in Wichita.
106. 1918: Kirstie Alley, an Emmy Award-winning actress, was born in Wichita.
107. 1921: Don Johnson, a professional golfer who won the PGA Championship, was born in Wichita.
108. 1922: Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar, moved to Wichita with her family.
109. 1924: Robert Docking, who would later become the Governor of Kansas, was born in Wichita.
910. 1925: Dan Glickman, who would go on to become a U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was born in Wichita.
111. 1930: Bill Parcells, a future Super Bowl-winning NFL coach, was born in Englewood, New Jersey, but later moved to Wichita.
112. 1934: Jim Ryun, a former U.S. Representative and Olympic silver medalist in track, was born in Wichita.
113. 1936: Joe Walsh, a future member of the rock band Eagles, was born in Wichita.
114. 1938: Richard A. Proctor, a notable businessman and philanthropist, was born in Wichita.
115. 1940: Gary Burrell, co-founder of Garmin, the GPS technology company, was born in Wichita.
116. 1942: Jeffrey Hammond, a musician known for his work with the band Jethro Tull, was born in Wichita.
117. 1944: Louise Brooks, a famous actress and dancer, lived in Wichita during this period.
118. 1945: Barry Sanders, a Hall of Fame NFL running back, was born in Wichita.
119. 1947: Lynette Woodard, a pioneering women’s basketball player and first female Harlem Globetrotter, was born in Wichita.
120. 1949: Eric Harris, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre, was born in Wichita.

Wichita During the Great Depression and World War II

The 1930s brought the Great Depression, a challenging time for Wichita. However, Wichita’s aviation industry played a crucial role in providing jobs and hope to its citizens. The city’s strategic location and manufacturing capabilities also made it a vital part of the war effort during World War II. Factories in Wichita produced aircraft essential to the Allied forces, highlighting the city’s national significance.

During this time, Wichita’s spirit of innovation and resilience shone brightly. The community came together to support the war effort, with women entering the workforce in unprecedented numbers and the city adapting to meet the demands of a nation at war.


Wichita's Cultural and Social Evolution

The first half of the 20th century was a time of cultural and social evolution in Wichita. The city’s population grew rapidly.  With growth comes the need for educational institutions, cultural venues, and recreational facilities. The establishment of the Wichita Municipal University in 1926, now Wichita State University, was a response to this growing demand for higher education.

The period also saw the growth of Wichita’s arts scene, with the Wichita Art Museum opening in 1935. This era laid the foundations for Wichita’s rich cultural landscape, growing a community valuing education, arts, and leisure.  As with any growing city, education, culture, and jobs plays a huge role in shaping the cities future. 


Reflecting on Wichita's Formative Years

Looking back at Wichita from 1900 to 1949 offers a glimpse into a pivotal time in the city’s history. It was a period marked by significant achievements in aviation, resilience through economic hardships, and contributions to national and global efforts during World War II. Wichita’s growth during these years set the stage for its future development, shaping the vibrant, innovative city we know today.

As residents or visitors explore Wichita, they walk through streets lined with the legacy of pioneers, visionaries, and hardworking citizens who laid the groundwork for the Air Capital of the World. This journey through Wichita’s past enriches our appreciation for its present and future, inviting us all to discover more about this remarkable city.


As we all know, Wichita is an exciting city.  To list the city highlights of decades to a small list is really an injustice.  Space is limited. However, if you think we left an important date out of our list, please click the contact button below and share your information. Thank you.

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