Wichita is the largest city in the State of Kansas and the 49th-largest city in the United States. Located in south-central Kansas on the Arkansas River, Wichita is the county seat of Sedgwick County and the principal city of the Wichita metropolitan area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city population was 382,368; as of 2013, it was estimated to have increased to 386,552. In 2013, the estimated population of the Wichita metropolitan area was 637,394, and that of the larger Wichita-Winfield combined statistical area was 673,598.
The city began as a trading post on the Chisholm Trail in the 1860s, then was incorporated in 1870. It subsequently became a key destination for cattle drives traveling north from Texas to access railroads, earning it the nickname "Cowtown". In the 1920s and 1930s, businessmen and aeronautical engineers established a number of successful aircraft manufacturing companies in Wichita including Beechcraft, Cessna, and Stearman Aircraft. The city transformed into a hub of U.S. aircraft production and became known as "The Air Capital of the World". Beechcraft, Cessna, (both now part of Textron Aviation) and other firms including Learjet, Airbus, and Spirit AeroSystems continue to operate design and manufacturing facilities in Wichita today, and the city remains a major center of the U.S. aircraft industry.
As an industrial hub and the largest city in the state, Wichita is an area center of culture, media, and trade. It hosts several large museums, theatres, parks, and entertainment venues, notably Intrust Bank Arena. Several universities are located in the city including Wichita State University, the third largest in the state. The city's daily newspaper, The Wichita Eagle, has the highest circulation of any newspaper in Kansas, and the Wichita broadcast television market includes the western two-thirds of the state. Wichita is also home to two large shopping centers, Towne East Square and Towne West Square, as well as the Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center and Kansas's largest airport, Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.
Prehistory and exploration
The site at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers has served as a trading center and meeting place for nomadic hunting people for at least 11,000 years. Human habitation in the Wichita area has been dated, in archeological digs, as far back as 3,000 B.C.
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 Native Americans whom he called Quiviras and who have been identified by archaeological and historical studies as the Wichita. 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 tribe in 1863. They had moved back to Wichita from Oklahoma during the American Civil War because of their pro-Union sentiments.
Pioneer traders and boosters
Pioneer trader Jesse Chisholm, a half-white, half-Native American who was illiterate but who spoke multiple Native American languages, established a trading post at the site in the 1860s, and Chisholm traded cattle and goods with the Wichita tribe at points south along a trail from Wichita into present-day Oklahoma (and eventually into Texas) that became known as the Chisholm Trail, which soon became legendary in Western lore. Chisholm was soon eclipsed in the area by three astute businessmen: commercial buffalo hunters and traders James R. Mead (of Iowa), William Greiffenstein (a German immigrant merchant), and Buffalo Bill Mathewson (not to be confused with Buffalo Bill Cody); these men led the initial commercial development of the area, becoming key landowners of what became the city of Wichita.
Wichita's position on the Chisholm Trail made it a destination for cattle drives headed north to access railroads to eastern markets. The Chisholm Trail ran along the east side of the community from 1867 to 1871. As a result, Wichita became a railhead for cattle drives from Texas and other south-western points, from which it has derived its nickname "Cowtown." Wichita's neighboring town on the opposite (west) bank of the Arkansas River, Delano, a village of saloons and brothels, had a particular reputation for lawlessness, largely accommodating the rough, visiting cattlemen. The Wichita/Delano community gained a wild reputation, however, the east (Wichita) side of the river was kept more civil, thanks to numerous well-known lawmen who passed through, employed to help keep the rowdy cowboys in line. Among those was Wyatt Earp.
Following the incorporation of the city in 1870, rapid immigration resulted in a land boom involving speculation into the late 1880s. Wichita annexed Delano in 1880. By 1890, Wichita had become the third-largest city in the state (behind Kansas City and Topeka), with a population of nearly 24,000. After the boom the city suffered from 15 years of comparative depression and slow growth.
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. Although she had visited all the bars in Wichita the night before, demanding that they close their doors, the John Noble painting Cleopatra at the Roman Bath in the Carey House had drawn her particular wrath.
An island in the middle of the Arkansas River, named Ackerman Island, was home to an amusement park and a dance pavilion. The island was connected to the West Bank of the river through a Work Projects Administration (WPA) project in the 1930s.
"The Air Capital of the World"
In the 20th century, aircraft pioneers such as Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech began projects that led to Wichita's establishment as the "Air Capital of the World". The aircraft corporations Stearman, Cessna, Mooney, and Beechcraft were all founded in Wichita in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
In 1914 and 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 Cessna Comet became the first aircraft to be built in Wichita.  In 1920, oilmen Jacob M. "Jake" Mollendick and Billy Burke invited young Chicago barnstormer and aircraft builder Emil Matthew "Matty" Laird to come to Wichita to build his new airplane design, backed by their money. The Laird Swallow became an instant success, the first successful "commercial" airplane manufactured in the United States; Laird built 43 of them between 1920 and 1923. When Matty Laird returned to Chicago, the Wichita enterprise was renamed Swallow Airplane Company. Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech were both employees of the Swallow Company, but in January 1925 they left Swallow and teamed up with Clyde Cessna to form Travel Air. Stearman left Travel Air in 1926 to start Stearman Aircraft in Venice, California, and Cessna quit in January 1927 to start Cessna. In 1927 Stearman would relocate his factory back to Wichita.
This varied aircraft industry, along with Wichita becoming a test center for new aviation, established Wichita as the "Air Capital of the World". The title was more or less officially accorded to Wichita in 1929 (for 1928 production), by the American airplane manufacturers' national trade association, then known as the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce.
Travel Air, with Walter Beech at the helm, grew to over 600 employees and operated from a huge factory complex constructed a few miles outside the city from 1927 to 1929. Due to so many employees working at such a large complex, it was dubbed "Travel Air City" by Wichita residents. The company merged with the huge Curtiss-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 1931 and by the fall of 1932, the remaining Travel Air employees were let go, the equipment was sold, and the entire Travel Air plant sat empty.
In March 1932, Beech quit the Curtis-Wright Corporation to form Beech Aircraft, along with his wife Olive Ann, and hired Ted Wells as his chief engineer. The first few "Beechcraft" were built in the vacant Cessna Aircraft plant, which had also closed during the depression; Beech later leased and then bought the Travel Air plant from Curtiss-Wright and moved his factory to this plant. Beech's first aircraft, the Model 17 (later dubbed the "Staggerwing"), was first flown on November 5, 1932. Nearly 100 Staggerwings are still in existence, many in flying condition. However, 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 longest continuously produced aircraft in the world when production ended.
Staggerwing production ended in 1946, replaced by general aviation's first successful, fully modern light aircraft, the V-tailed, four-seat, single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza. Approximately 750 were built and sold in the first year, despite a recession and a devastating aviation industry shakeout. In various forms, the Bonanza has now become the world's longest continuously produced aircraft, still in production in a straight-tailed, six-seat version. Other models evolved from the Bonanza, ultimately culminating in the twin-turboprop Beechcraft King Air and Beechcraft Super King Air, the world's most popular turbine-powered business aircraft. The Beech line added imported business jets from Britain and Japan, a military trainer from Switzerland, and also produced military drones. On February 8, 1980, Beech Aircraft Corporation was purchased by the Raytheon Corporation and later sold to Onex Corp., which renamed it Hawker Beechcraft. Major problems followed both takeovers, including troubled developments of the advanced business turboprop Beechcraft Starship and jets, and by late 2012 / early 2013 the company entered bankruptcy proceedings—emerging without its troubled business-jet line, as Beechcraft Corp., focused solely on its popular line of propeller-driven aircraft and military drones. In 2014, Cessna parent company Textron acquired Beechcraft and combined both Cessna and Beechcraft (including the Hawker brand) into a new division known as Textron Aviation.
After the 1929 stock market crash, Stearman and Boeing were acquired by United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC). In 1934, anti-trust action broke up UATC, and Boeing was spun off to house all UATC manufacturing subsidiaries west of the Mississippi river, including Wichita's Stearman. That same year, the Wichita plant began production of the successful Boeing-Stearman Model 75 "Kaydet" Navy and Army - Air Corps primary biplane trainer. After the crash of the Boeing XB-17 prototype in 1935, Wichita banker Arthur Kinkaid (IV National Bank of Wichita) supported Boeing and ensured that the Boeing-Stearman plant would remain in Wichita. By mid-2014, Boeing had wound down its Wichita operations and put its remaining facilities in the city up for sale.
The city experienced a population explosion during World War II when it became a major manufacturing center for the Boeing B-29 bombers needed in the war effort. By 1945, an average of 4.2 bombers were being produced daily in Wichita. For many years Boeing was Wichita's largest employer. Wichita saw some of its fastest population growth of the 20th century during the peak of the Cold War when Wichita was the headquarters for the Boeing Military Airplane Company and home to the McConnell Air Force Base. BoMAC produced all Boeing B-47 Stratojet aircraft and many Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses in Wichita. At various times McConnell Air Force Base hosted the 381st Strategic Missile Wing that controlled various LGM-25C Titan II missile silos around Wichita, the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, 23d Tactical Fighter Wing, 91st Air Refueling Squadron, 384th Air Refueling Wing/Bombardment Wing, and the Kansas Air National Guard 184th Tactical Fighter Training Group. Wichita's mid-continental location made it ideal for basing strategic assets, allowing maximum time to react to a Soviet missile attack launched over the north pole or from oceangoing submarines.
Several aircraft from McConnell AFB crashed in the city, including:
In 1962, the Lear Jet Corporation was established when the Swiss American Aviation Corporation brought the tooling for building a failed ground-attack fighter to Wichita and opened a plant at Wichita's airport. On February 7, 1963, assembly of the first Learjet aircraft began and the following year, the company was renamed the Lear Jet Corporation. In 1990 Canadian firm Bombardier Aerospace purchased Learjet Corporation.
In the 1970s, airplane designer/entrepreneur Jim Bede — who developed the BD-1 into the American Yankee — returned to the Wichita area to develop and market the Bede BD-5 micro-kitplane in nearby Newton, Kansas. Bede's chief aeronautical engineer was Burt Rutan, who, with his brother, test pilot Dick Rutan, helped develop the world's first government-certified all-composite airplane, the Beech Starship.
However, in the 1990s, Boeing responded to conflict with labor unions by eventually selling off most of its commercial-aircraft subassembly factory, and its operations, to a newly created subcontractor, Spirit AeroSystems (initially largely owned by Boeing, itself), which continued the extensive Boeing jetliner manufacturing operations there -- but without the financial burden of the original Boeing labor-union contracts. The facility continues as the supplier of major parts for all Boeing jetliners, including the front end of all Boeing jetliners, and 75% of Boeing's most popular plane, the Boeing 737, including the entire fuselage of that plane, which is shipped by rail to Seattle for final assembly. Other subassemblies for other Boeing aircraft (particularly engine nacelles), are built by Spirit at the Wichita factory.
In the early 21st Century, Wichita aircraft manufacturing saw a return to its roots with the development of a small aircraft-manufacturing enterprise, Belite Aircraft Corp., at a local private airstrip (the Wichita Glider Port, northeast of town). Belite's initial product was the relabeled single-seat version of the popular Skystar Kitfox, an metal-framed and fabric-skinned light sport aircraft.
In 2012, Boeing announced plans to shut down its remaining Wichita facilities in the face of Pentagon budget cuts. However, the city remains a major manufacturing center for the aircraft industry today, with Textron (Cessna, Beechcraft and Textron Aviation) and Bombardier having major manufacturing centers in town, as well as design and engineering facilities run by Airbus. "
Wichita was also a significant entrepreneurial business center during the pre and post-war period, with Coleman, Mentholatum, Pizza Hut, Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, White Castle, Taco Tico, 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 of one of the first academic centers to study and support entrepreneurship at the Wichita State University Center for Entrepreneurship.
In October 1932, orchestra leader Gage Brewer introduced the electric guitar to the world from Wichita using an instrument developed by what would later become known as the Rickenbacker Guitar Company.
The Dockum Drug Store sit-in was one of the first organized lunch-counter sit-ins for the purpose of integrating segregated establishments in the United States. The protest began in July 1958 in Wichita at the Dockum Drug Store, a store in the old Rexall chain, in which protesters would sit at the counter all day until the store closed, ignoring taunts from counterprotesters. The sit-in ended three weeks later when the owner relented and agreed to serve black patrons, taking place 18 months before the more widely publicized Greensboro sit-ins in January 1960. A -long bronze sculpture first announced in 1998 at a cost of $3 million marks the site of the successful sit-in, with a lunch counter and patrons depicting the protest.
Recent history has seen increased development in downtown and to the east and west sides of Wichita. In June 2005, Sedgwick County voters approved a sales tax raise to build a new arena downtown to replace the aging Kansas Coliseum, located north of the city. This is considered by some as a stepping stone to launch new development downtown.