Kansas City is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri. It encompasses 318 square miles (820 km2) in parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties. The city also serves as the anchor city of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, second largest in Missouri. As of 2006, the city had an estimated population of 447,306, with a metro area of nearly two million. Kansas City was founded in 1838 as the “Town of Kansas” at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers and was incorporated in its present form in 1850. Situated opposite Kansas City, Kansas, the city was the location of several battles during the Civil War, including the Battle of Westport. The city is well known for its contributions to the musical styles of jazz and blues as well as to cuisine (Kansas City-style barbecue).
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Kansas City History
Kansas City, Missouri officially incorporated on March 28, 1853. The territory straddling the border between Missouri and Kansas at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers was considered a good place to build settlements.
Exploration and Settlement
Kansas City Pioneer Square monument in Westport features Pony Express founder Alexander Majors, Westport/Kansas City founder John Calvin McCoy and Mountainman Jim Bridger who owned Chouteau’s Store.The first documented European visit to Kansas City was etienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont, who was also the first European to explore the lower Missouri River. Criticized for his handling of a Native American attack of Fort Detroit, he had deserted his post as commander of the fort and was avoiding the French authorities. Bourgmont lived with a Native American wife in the Missouri village about 90 miles (140 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 the documents he describes the junction of the “Grande Riv[iere] des Cansez” and Missouri River, 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 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. The Chouteau family operated under the Spanish license at St. Louis in the lower Missouri Valley as early as 1765, but it would be 1821 before the Chouteaus reached Kansas City, when FranÃ§ois Chouteau established Chouteau’s Landing.
After the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark visited the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, noting it was a good place to build a fort.
In 1833 John McCoy established West Port along the Santa Fe Trail, three miles (5 km) away from the river. Then in 1834, McCoy established Westport Landing on a bend in the Missouri River to serve as a landing point for West Port. Soon after, the Kansas Town Company, a group of investors, began to settle the area, taking their name from an English spelling of “Cansez.” In 1850 the landing area was incorporated as the Town of Kansas.
By that time, the Town of Kansas, Westport, and nearby Independence, had become critical points in America’s westward expansion. Three major trails ,“ the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon ,“ all originated in Jackson County.
On February 22, 1853, the City of Kansas was created with a newly elected mayor. It had an area of 0.70 square miles (1.8 km2) and a population of 2,500. The boundary lines at that time extended from the middle of the Missouri River south to what is now Ninth Street, and from Bluff Street on the west to a point between Holmes Road and Charlotte Street on the east.
The area was rife with animosity as the Civil War approached. As citizens of a slave state, Missourians tended to sympathize with the southern states. With Kansas petitioning to enter the Union under the new doctrine of popular sovereignty, many from the area crossed into Kansas to sway the state towards allowing slavery, at first by ballot box and then by bloodshed.
Bird’s eye view of Kansas City, Missouri. January 1869. Drawn by A. Ruger, Merchants Lith. Co., currently located at the Irish Museum and Cultural Center in Union StationDuring the Civil War, the City of Kansas and its immediate environs were the focus of intense military activity. Although the First Battle of Independence in August 1862 resulted in a Confederate victory, the Southerners were unable to follow up their win in any significant fashion, as the City of Kansas was occupied by Union troops and proved too heavily fortified for them to assault. The Second Battle of Independence, part of Sterling Price’s Missouri expedition of 1864, also resulted in a Confederate triumph. Once again the Southern victory proved hollow, as Price was decisively defeated in the pivotal Battle of Westport the next day, effectively ending Confederate efforts to occupy the city.
Moreover, General Thomas Ewing, in response to a successful raid on nearby Lawrence, Kansas, led by William Quantrill, issued General Order No. 11, forcing the eviction of residents in four western Missouri counties–including Jackson–except those living in the city and nearby communities and those whose allegiance to the Union was certified by Ewing.
Walnut St., Downtown Kansas City, Mo. 1906
After the Civil War, the City of Kansas grew rapidly. The selection of the city over Leavenworth, Kansas, for the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad bridge over the Missouri River brought about significant growth. The population exploded after 1869, when the Hannibal Bridge, designed by Octave Chanute, opened. The boom prompted a name change to Kansas City in 1889 and the city limits to extend south and east. Westport became part of Kansas City on December 2, 1897. According to the US Census in 1900, Kansas City was the 22nd largest city in the country, with 163,752 residents.
Kansas City, guided by architect George Kessler, became a forefront example of the City Beautiful movement, developing a network of boulevards and parks around the city. The relocation of Union Station to its current location in 1914 and the opening of the Liberty Memorial in 1923 gave the city two of its most identifiable landmarks. Further spurring Kansas City’s growth was the opening of the innovative Country Club Plaza development by J.C. Nichols in 1925 as part of his Country Club District plan.
At the turn of the century, political machines attempted to gain clout in the city, with the one led by Tom Pendergast emerging as the dominant machine by 1925. A new city charter passed that year made it easier for his Democratic Party machine to gain control of the city council (slimmed from 32 members to nine) and appoint a corrupt city manager. Several important buildings and structures were built during this time, to assist with the great depression all led by Pendergast, including the Kansas City City Hall and the Jackson County Courthouse both added new skyscrapers to the city’s growing skyline. The machine fell in 1939 when Pendergast, riddled with health problems, pleaded guilty to tax evasion. The machine, however, gave rise to Harry S. Truman, who quickly became Kansas City’s favorite son.
Kansas City Post-World War II sprawl
Kansas City satellite mapKansas City’s sprawl and the creation of suburbs originally began with the invention and implementation of streetcars into the city and the surrounding areas. Streetcar suburbs began to pop up and more and more detached, single family homes were built away from the main part of town. The city’s first “Suburbs” were in the neighborhoods of Pendleton Heights and Quality Hill. However, the real sprawl and creation of suburbs didn’t start until after the second world war.
After World War II, the city experienced considerable sprawl, as the affluent populace left for suburbs like Johnson County, Kansas, and eastern Jackson County, Missouri. However, many also went north of the Missouri River, where Kansas City had incorporated areas between the 1940s to 1970s. The population of the urban core significantly dipped, while the metropolitan area as a whole gained population.
The sprawl of the city mainly took shape after the “race riots” of the Civil Rights Movement in Kansas City. At this time, slums were also beginning to form in the inner city, and those who could afford to leave, left for the suburbs and outer edges of the city. The post-WWII idea of suburbs and the “American Dream” also contributed to the sprawl of the area. As the city continued to sprawl, the inner city also continued to decline.
In 1940, the city had about 400,000 residents; by 2000, the same area was home to only about 180,000. From 1940 to 1960, the city more than doubled its physical size, while increasing its population by only about 75,000. By 1970, the city had a total area of approximately 316 square miles (820 km2), more than five times its size in 1940.
The Hyatt hotel walkway collapse was a major disaster that occurred on 17 July 1981 killing 114 people and injuring more than 200 others during a tea dance. At the time it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history.