Wichita, also known as the Air Capital of the World, is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas, as well as a major aircraft manufacturing hub and cultural center. In July of 2006, CNN/Money and Money magazine ranked Wichita ninth on its list of the 10 best big cities to live in the United States. The city is home to six major aircraft manufacturing companies and McConnell Air Force Base. Wichita is located in South Central Kansas on the Arkansas River, and is the county seat of Sedgwick County. It is also the home of a National Weather Service Forecast Office which serves portions of central, south-central, and southeast Kansas.
Wichita is the 50th largest city in the United States with an estimated population of 354,865 in the year 2005. The Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which encompasses Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey, and Sumner counties, has a 2004 estimated population of 584,671 persons residing in 245,159 households, making it the 82nd largest MSA in the United States. The Wichita-Winfield Combined Statistical Area also includes Cowley County and has an estimated population of 618,641.
Following the incorporation of the city in 1870 rapid immigration resulted in a land boom involving speculation into the late 1880s. Wichita had become the third largest city in the state (behind Kansas City and Topeka) with a population of nearly 24,000 in 1890. After the boom the city suffered from 15 years of comparative depression and slow growth.
The early 20th century saw a resurgence in growth from the nascent aircraft industry (see below) with the population increasing by 350% between 1900 and 1930. By 1920 Wichita had entered the top 100 largest cities in the United States and by 1930 reached 77th in rank. The depression of the 1930s again brought slow growth with total population only increasing by 3% between 1930 and 1940. The decades during and after World War II saw a growth spurt as the city's population increased by more than 120% between 1940 and 1960. Wichita had become the largest city in the state by 1950 and the 51st largest city in the country by 1960—a ranking it has held to this date.
The period between 1950 and 1970 saw a major shift in the city's racial makeup, as the proportion of blacks in the population increased significantly. Until 1950, blacks had made up about 5% of the population, with little variation. The black population increased from 8,082 (4.8%) in 1950 to 26,841 (9.7%) in 1970, a 230% increase. This also marked the beginning of the decline of the white majority. Even as the white population has increased from 160,000 in 1950 to about 260,000 in 2000, the percentage of the population has dropped from 95% to 75%.
During the 1970s, the city's population only grew by 1%, but the growth rate accelerated in the following two decades to more than 13% in the 1990s. The growth in minority races is still strong. The black population has grown by a more modest 14% per decade, but the proportion of the other races, including indigenous American and immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Rim, has risen from just 1% to over 10% of the population.
The City of Wichita is home to Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, which boasts 24 themed gardens including the popular Butterfly Garden and the award-winning Sally Stone Sensory Garden. Sedgwick County Extension Arboretum is also located in the city.
The first complete recording made by jazz musician Charlie "Bird" Parker occurred in 1940 at the Trocadero Ballroom in Wichita. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Wichita had a significant Beat movement. The Wichita Jazz Festival remains a significant annual event on the national jazz calendar.
Wichita is also home to the Wichita River Festival, held each May in the Downtown and Old Town areas of the city. It is one of the longest continuous running festivals in the state of Kansas and features over 70 events, including musical entertainment, sporting events, traveling exhibits, cultural and historical activities, plays, interactive children's events, a flea market, river events, a parade, block party, food court, fireworks and souvenirs for the roughly 370,000+ patrons who attend each year.
Other major attractions of the city include the Sedgwick County Zoo, home to more than 2,500 animals of nearly 500 different species; the Old Cowtown Museum; McConnell Air Force Base; Exploration Place, a science and discovery center for all ages; the Old Town historical and entertainment district; the Mid-America All-Indian Center and Museum; and the Wichita Art Museum.
Other museums and attractions in the metro area:
Wichita is also home to Kansas' tallest building, the Epic Center
A thorough writeup can be found at the external site City of Wichita-History.
The site on the two rivers has served as a trading center for nomadic peoples for the last 11,000 years. The area was visited by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541, while he was in search of the fabulous "cities of gold." While there, he encountered a group of Indians whom he called Quiviras and who have been identified by archeological and historical studies as Wichita Indians. By 1719 these people had moved south to Oklahoma, where they met French traders. The first permanent settlement in Wichita was a collection of grass houses inhabited by the Wichita Indians in 1863. They had moved back to Wichita from Oklahoma during the Civil War due to their pro-Union sentiments. The city was officially incorporated in 1870. Shortly thereafter it became a railhead destination for cattle drives from Texas and other southwestern points, from whence it has derived its nickname of "Cowtown."
Wichita reached national fame in 1900 when Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) member Carrie Nation decided to carry her crusade against alcohol to Wichita. On December 27 of that year she entered the Carey House bar in downtown Wichita and smashed the place with a rock and a pool ball. She had visited all the bars in Wichita the night before and demanded that they close their doors. However, the painting by John Noble of Cleopatra at the Roman Bath in the Carey House had drawn her particular wrath.
In 1914-1915, oil was discovered nearby and Wichita became a major oil center. The money derived from oil allowed local entrepreneurs to invest in a nascent airplane industry. In 1917, the first plane, the Cessna Comet, was manufactured in Wichita. Forty-three Swallows, the first airplanes made specifically for production, were built in Wichita between 1920 and 1923. This industry, coinciding with Wichita as a test center for new aviation, established Wichita as the "Air Capital." Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech were employees of the Swallow company, but in January 1925 they left Swallow Aircraft and teamed up with Clyde Cessna to form Travel Air. Lloyd Stearman left the company in 1926 to start Stearman Aircraft in Venice, California. Cessna quit in January 1927 to start Cessna. Stearman would only be gone from Wichita for a year before returning.
Travel Air with Walter Beech at the helm grew to the point of employing over 600 workers and working in a huge factory complex constructed from 1927 to 1929. Employing so many workers at such a large complex and being a few miles outside the city limits it was tagged "Travel Air City" by Wichita residents. The company merged with the huge Curtis Wright Corporation in the Roaring Twenties' heyday of company buyouts and takeovers just two months before the Stock Market crash in 1929. Workers were laid off by the hundreds during 1930 and more so in 1931. By the fall of 1932 all workers were let go in Wichita, equipment was sold and the entire Travel Air plant sat empty.
In March 1932 Walter quit Curtis Wright to form Beech Aircraft with his wife Olive Ann and hired Ted Wells as his chief engineer. The first four or five "Beechcraft" were built in the vacant Cessna Aircraft plant which was also closed during the depression. Beech later leased and then bought the Travel Air plant from Curtis Wright and men, machinery, and an airplane or two were moved from the Cessna plant. The first aircraft was the Model 17, later dubbed the "Staggerwing" which was first flown on November 5, 1932. The aircraft that would propel the small company into a huge corporation was the Model 18 "Twin Beech," of which thousands were built from 1937 to 1969. The Staggerwing production ended in 1946 with approximately 750 built and a few more assembled from parts in 1947. The Staggerwing production was replaced by the Beechcraft Bonanza, although there are still nearly 100 Staggerwings in existence, most in usable condition.
The city experienced a population explosion during World War II when it became a major manufacturing center for airplanes needed in the war effort. By 1945, 4.2 bombers were being produced daily in Wichita. Stearman Aircraft, later purchased by the Boeing Company, was founded in Wichita, as were Beech Aircraft (now called Hawker Beechcraft), Cessna Aircraft, and LearJet (now Bombardier). The city remains a major manufacturing center for the aircraft industry today, with all of these and Airbus still having major centers there, hence its nickname: "The Air Capital."
Wichita was also a significant entrepreneurial business center during the pre and post-war period, with Coleman, Mentholatum, Pizza Hut, White Castle, and Koch Industries having all been founded in Wichita. Ironically, White Castle closed all of their restaurants in Wichita in 1938 and has not operated in the state of Kansas after a failed revival attempt in the Kansas City area in the early 1990s. The entrepreneurial spirit of Wichita led to the creation one of the first academic centers to study and support entrepreneurship at The Wichita State University, Center for Entrepreneurship.
Recent history has seen development downtown and the East and West sides. Sedgwick County Voters recently approved a sales tax raise to build a new arena downtown to replace the aging Kansas Coliseum. This is considered by many a stepping stone to launch new development downtown.
Wichita is also noteworthy for the crimes of BTK killer Dennis Rader, which gained national media attention.
An informative collection of historical photographs of the city can be found at Wichita Photo Archives.
Most Community Colleges and State Universities offer online/distance learning options.