John Wesley Jenkins

Jenkins Music Co.
Jenkins Music Co. Building. Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

John Wesley Jenkins expanded his family music business from a small room rented from a sewing machine and wall paper shop to numerous store locations throughout the Midwest. He began working for his father as a teenager and, upon his death in 1932, was a millionaire.

The J. W. Jenkins Music Company was begun by John Woodward Jenkins in the late 1800s as a small store serving the musical needs of the Southwest. As a young man, John Wesley worked in and out of the shop, selling instruments and supplies. At the age of 17, he was offered an opportunity to work in Austin, Texas, for the grand sum of $75 a week—a lot of money in 1881. He turned down the offer to travel so far from home and instead devoted his energies to the family business. He took special pride in providing instruments that left his stores tuned and ready to play. The business expanded to Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas.

The J. W. Jenkins Music Company consolidated several Kansas City stores into a modern eight-story structure at 1217 Walnut Street in April 1932. The prestigious building contained floors devoted to band instruments, stringed instruments, sheet music, appliances, a printing department, and an elaborate display of pianos. The store also offered private show rooms and an auditorium that seated 250 people.

Seven months after the new store opened, Jenkins was killed in a car accident. His will dispersed more that $30,000 to the YMCA and more than $20,000 to 120 long-time employees of his stores. The façade of the store in Walnut Street is now part of the Town Pavilion.


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