Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Labor and Industry

Articles

Author: 
Kyle Anthony
University of Saint Mary

The history of the Donnelly Garment Company and its battle with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) is one that defies conventional understandings of American life in the Great Depression. It is a story of a female entrepreneur succeeding in an era of economic paralysis, and one of a union failing to organize a factory in a period when workers won substantive rights. ILGWU president David Dubinsky, Nell Donnelly Reed, and Senator James A. Reed were the principal figures in a contest to organize a single garment factory, a legal battle that came to represent much larger questions.

Author: 
Dustin Gann
Midland University

According to a May 29, 1928, editorial in the Kansas Citian, the Republican National Convention promised to “bring more influential people in industry, business, and financial circles than ever brought here by a convention.” Local leaders envisioned the 1928 Republican National Convention raising the national and regional profile of Kansas City in two related ways. First, delegates and visitors attending the convention could see the city’s growth in person. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the event and subsequent attention would bolster the city’s standing, particularly in relation to regional rivals such as Cleveland and St. Louis.

Author: 
John Herron
University of Missouri - Kansas City

There are world records for nearly everything, including cattle processing. And in September 1918, Kansas City broke them all. As World War I entered its final fateful months, the Kansas City stockyards handled more than 55,000 cattle in a single day and 475,000 for the month.  That fall, during a remarkable three-month span, more than 1.3 million cattle passed through the city’s yards. The Kansas City cattle business was impressive, but add to these figures hundreds of thousands of sheep, hogs, and horses, and more than 3.3 million animals were yarded in the city. First seven, then 12, then 34 railroads brought these animals into the city and out again to distant markets.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

A "Renaissance man" is defined as one who has had a broad education, acquired profound knowledge, has a proficiency in a wide range of fields, and benefits his community. Henry C. Haskell, playwright, author, editor and columnist for The Kansas City Star, musician, civic leader and philanthropist, certainly qualified for that description.

Author: 
Janice Lee

In the 1920s, air travel was new and uncertain. City booster Lou Holland, one of the first to see its possibilities, became the "Father of Kansas City Aviation" when he helped establish Kansas City's first municipal airport.

Author: 
Kimberly R. Riley

Rufus Crosby Kemper, who went by R. Crosby or Crosby, was born in 1892 in Valley Falls, Kansas. The family moved to Kansas City in 1893 and lived in homes in the 2600 block of Troost Avenue and at 1000 Westover Road. James Madison Kemper was born in 1894. The Kemper sons attended Kansas City public schools and the University of Missouri, where they played on the football team. Both men also fought in World War I.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

William Thornton Kemper was born November 3, 1865, in Gallatin, Missouri, to a pair of Kentucky transplants, James M. and Sallie Ann Paxton Kemper. William’s exceptional work ethic surfaced early in his life, when at age 11 he found a position at a dry goods store in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he had gone to live with his father after the death of his mother. At 14 he was working in a St. Joseph shoe store, socking away much of his $3.00 weekly salary.

Author: 
Janice Lee

Between 1910 to 1939, nearly every major civic improvement in Kansas City bore the mark of Conrad Mann. This massive, bear-like man with a brusque, unpolished manner was a uniquely talented leader who knew how to "get things done."

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On November 8, 1917, Mary Tiera Farrow and 20 other female lawyers formed the Women's Bar Association of Kansas City. Farrow was one of the few women in the United States who successfully practiced law in the early 1900s, overcoming the discrimination women faced in the legal field and society generally. Having been denied the professional benefits of any existing bar association, she led a group of 20 women in establishing their own bar in Kansas City. It was just one of many pioneering acts that Farrow undertook for herself and for women's rights at large.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

Nelle Nichols Peters is known as a pathbreaking female architect, designer of nearly 1,000 local buildings, and one of the most prolific architects in Kansas City during the 1920s. Despite the fact that many of these buildings still occupy prominent locations, especially near the Country Club Plaza, Nelle Peters remains a relatively obscure figure in Kansas City history.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On April 14, 1910, the City Council approved the creation of the Board of Public Welfare to provide aid to the city’s poor. As the brainchild of Kansas City philanthropist William Volker, the Board of Public Welfare was the first modern welfare department in the United States, a groundbreaking forerunner to modern welfare programs, and intended as a counterbalance to the charitable activities of the city's political machines led by Tom Pendergast and Joe Shannon. The board was just one of Volker’s many memorable contributions that included the creation of Research Hospital, the establishment of the University of Kansas City (now UMKC), the Civic Research Institute, the purchase of the land for Liberty Memorial, and reportedly thousands of individuals who received his gifts when down on their luck. He received these callers on an almost daily basis at his private home on Bell Street. 

Author: 
Barbara Magerl

If Ellen Quinlan had been an only child, it would have been Kansas City's misfortune. The twelfth child in a Parsons, Kansas, family, she redesigned without any patterns the hand-me-downs she wore. This natural talent led to a famous career.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

As a young man, Fred Wolferman struggled to maintain his interest in the grocery business, having dreamed from an early age of becoming a doctor. He later recollected a game in which he and the store's first clerk fought boredom by perfecting the art of catching a cranberry, tossed from across the store, in their open mouths.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

    Isaac "Ike" Katz, who would go on to found the Katz Drug Co. in Kansas City and become a pioneer in the modern pharmacy business, was born in the town of Husiatin in western Ukraine (then a part of Russia) on March 8, 1879. Ike Katz brought customers into his drug stores with a unique business model, where customers could fill prescriptions, shop for groceries, buy appliances, and even purchase exotic pets such as monkeys or baby alligators; all at cut-rate prices. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the company boasted 65 retail locations spread across seven states.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    James F. Pendergast, born in 1856 in Gallipolis, Ohio, moved from St. Joseph to Kansas City in 1876 and initially worked in an iron foundry. In the early 1880s, he purchased a saloon and a small hotel in the West Bottoms. Soon his brothers and sisters joined him to help with the business, and his political activities led to the creation of the Pendergast political machine that would be handed down to his younger brother, Thomas J. Pendergast, and dominate the city government in the 1920s and '30s.

    Author: 
    Janice Lee

    When the new General Hospital opened its doors in October 1908, Kansas City was justifiably proud. Not only was the building a fine addition to the landscape, but the city could boast of being one of the few U.S. cities to provide free municipal health care for the indigent.

    Author: 
    Janice Lee

    In 1931 the new Kansas City Power & Light Co. building dominated the landscape as Missouri's tallest building. It rose 31 stories high, the crowning 97-foot-high pillar of changing colored lights creating a jewel-like glow visible for miles around.  Decades later it remains notable both for its spectacular lighting and as a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture.

    Author: 
    Ann McFerrin

    The Liberty Memorial, one of Kansas City’s most recognizable landmarks, is the only major memorial and museum in the United States dedicated to World War I. On November 29th, after an editorial in the Kansas City Journal newspaper suggested a monument memorializing those who served in the [first] World War, Kansas City’s City Council appointed well-known lumber businessman Robert A. Long as chairman of the “Committee of One Hundred.” 

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    On December 7, 1940, the U.S. Army Air Corps announced that the Fairfax Industrial District in Kansas City, Kansas, would host a North American Aviation B-25 bomber production plant to prepare for the possibility of the United States entering World War II. The medium-sized bombers would eventually prove crucial to the American strategic bombing campaigns in the European and Pacific theatres.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    On January 22, 1882, future architect William Drewin Wight was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1911, he joined his older brother, Thomas, in Kansas City, where they created the architectural firm of Wight & Wight. The firm went on to profoundly influence Kansas City's architectural landscape with prominent designs that included the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Jackson County Courthouse, the Kansas City Life Insurance Company Building, and City Hall.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    The Board of Trade building was the pride of downtown Kansas City when it was completed in 1888. Designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Burnham & Root, the building at 210 West Eighth Street was once praised by the renowned British architect James Stirling (1926-1992) as “the toughest building of its period on either side of the Atlantic.”

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    On December 16, 1936, 1,000 employees of the Fisher Body plant located in the Leeds district of Kansas City sat down on the job to protest the recent firing of a worker and demand that General Motors recognize the unionization of autoworkers. What could have been merely a local dispute instead gave early momentum to one of the most significant labor-management confrontations of the twentieth century, the so-called General Motors Strike of 1936-37.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    On August 17, 1927, a jubilant crowd of 25,000 gathered at the site of the present-day Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport to listen to speeches given by Charles Lindbergh and city officials in order to dedicate Municipal Airport. Several Kansas City leaders, including a previously-skeptical City Manager Henry F. McElroy, had flown in from old Richards Field in Raytown and landed on the soggy turf known as "Peninsula field," just north of downtown Kansas City.