Kokomo is the county seat of Howard County, Indiana, United States. Kokomo is Indiana's 12th largest city. It is the principal city of the Kokomo, Indiana Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Howard and Tipton counties. Kokomo's population was 46,113 at the 2000 census, and 45,468 at the 2010 census. On January 1, 2012, Kokomo successfully annexed more than on the south and west sides of the city, including Alto and Indian Heights, increasing the city's population to nearly 57,000 people.
Kokomo was named after a Miami Indian referred to as a chief, but later found to be local legend Ma-Ko-Ko-Mo, which is sometimes spelled as "Koh-Koh-Mah" or "Kokomoko". His name translates to Black Walnut. There was a trading post for commerce between Native Americans and European-Americans here in the early 19th century. David Foster founded the first trading post in Howard County. In 1844, Foster donated of his land to create a county seat in Kokomo, which was a log courthouse, for use in the community. It was incorporated as a city in 1865.
On October 6, 1886, natural gas was discovered in Kokomo, leading to a "boom" in business. This discovery was directly responsible for Elwood Haynes' move to Kokomo, as he was a superintendent with a gas company with interests in Kokomo and Howard County. The Diamond Plate Glass Company began in Kokomo in 1887, lured by the cheap and plentiful natural gas. This company later became part of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, or PPG. The Kokomo Opalescent Glass Works started making stained glass in Kokomo in 1888 and has been in continuous operation ever since.
On July 4, 1923, Kokomo achieved national notoriety when it hosted the largest Ku Klux Klan gathering in history. An estimated 200,000 Klan members and supporters gathered in Malfalfa Park for a mighty Konklave and the elevation of D. C. Stephenson to Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan. A huge flag was used that day to collect a reported $50,000 for construction of a local “Klan hospital” so that Klan members would not have to be treated at the only local hospital, which was Catholic. At that time Indiana was a Klan stronghold, and as much as 50 percent of white males in parts of Indiana were Klan members. Both men’s and women’s Klans held weekly rallies and initiations in Malfalfa Park, and Kokomo’s Klanswomen held meetings at the armory, the local headquarters of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, and churches. A speech at a Baptist church was attended by 1000 Klanswomen.
Much of the town was damaged or destroyed on April 11, 1965, by an F4 tornado that was part of the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak.
"City of Firsts"
Kokomo is officially known as the "City of Firsts" for, among other achievements, being a pioneer of United States automobile manufacturing, with Elwood Haynes test-driving his early internal combustion engine auto there on July 4, 1894. Haynes and his associates built a number of other autos over the next few years; the Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company for mass-production of commercial autos was established in Kokomo in 1898. Haynes went on to invent Stainless Steel flatware in 1912 to give his wife tarnish-free dinnerware. In 1938, the Delco Radio Division of General Motors (now Delphi) developed the first push button car radio.
Kokomo serves as the "City of Firsts" in the food industry as well. In 1928 Walter Kemp, Kemp Brothers Canning Co. developed the first canned tomato juice because of a request by a physician in search for baby food for his clinic. Kokomo is also home to the first mechanical corn picker which was developed by a man named John Powell in the early 1920s. Kokomo was home to the first Ponderosa Steakhouse, which opened in 1965. Kokomo opened the first McDonald's with a diner inside, locally called "McDiner." This McDonald's theme failed nationally. Eventually, the "McDiner" closed and was converted back to a regular McDonald's restaurant.
These inventions are associated with Kokomo:
Kokomo served to symbolize the nation's early misunderstanding and ignorance of AIDS in the mid-to-late 1980s when Ryan White (1971–1990) was expelled from school due to his illness. White was a teenage hemophiliac who had been mistakenly infected with HIV during a medical procedure. The teen had been attending Western Middle School but was ostracized by his classmates, and forced to eat lunch by himself and use a separate restroom. Many parents and teachers in Kokomo rallied in support of banning White from attending the school. A lengthy legal battle with the school system ensued, followed by death threats and violence against White and his family, including a bullet being fired through the window of their Kokomo home. Media coverage of the case made White into a national celebrity and spokesman for AIDS research and public education. In 1987, the White family left Kokomo for Cicero, Indiana, where Ryan attended Hamilton Heights High School, and was welcomed by faculty and students who had been educated about the disease.
The Kokomo Gas Tower had been a symbol of Kokomo since it was constructed in 1954. The tower was 378 ft (115 m) tall and had a capacity of 12 million cubic feet (340,000 m³). Due to high maintenance costs of $75,000 a year to maintain and up to $1,000,000 to paint, the gas company decided to demolish it in 2003. Other ideas were reviewed before settling on this decision, including a plan to turn the tower into a giant Coca-Cola advertisement. On September 7, 2003, at approximately 7:30 a.m., the Gas Tower was demolished by Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI). Pieces of the tower were sold to the public for $20–30, and proceeds went to a planned Kokomo technology incubation center and Bona Vista.