Wichita is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas. According to the 2011 United States Census Bureau estimate, the city population was 384,445. 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 2011, the metro area had a population of 630,721; the Wichita-Winfield combined statistical area (CSA) population was 661,798.
The city was incorporated in 1870, based on the success of businessmen who came to hunt and trade with native populations. Its position on the Chisholm Trail made it a destination for cattle drives heading north to access railroads to eastern markets. In the 20th century, aircraft pioneers such as Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech and Bill Lear began projects that would lead to Wichita's nicknaming 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. Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft remain based in Wichita today, along with Learjet and Spirit AeroSystems, and both Airbus and Boeing maintain a workforce in Wichita. The city was also at one time the headquarters of the former Derby Oil Company, which was purchased by Coastal Corporation in 1988.
An area cultural center, Wichita is home to Intrust Bank Arena as well as numerous nightclubs, restaurants, shopping centers, museums and parks. Several universities are in Wichita, the largest being Wichita State University with an enrollment of 15,000 students. In July 2006, CNN/Money and Money magazine ranked Wichita 9th on its list of the 10 best U.S. big cities in which to live. In 2008, MSN Real Estate ranked Wichita 1st on its list of most affordable cities. Wichita was also named most "Uniquely American" city by Newsmax Magazine.
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 Indians whom he called Quiviras and who have been identified by archaeological and historical studies as Wichita Indians. 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 Indians in 1863. They had moved back to Wichita from Oklahoma during the American Civil War because of their pro-Union sentiments.
The city, on the east bank of the Arkansas river, was officially incorporated in 1870. Its position on the Chisholm Trail made it a destination for cattle drives headed north to access railroads to eastern markets. As a result, it became a railhead destination for cattle drives from Texas and other south-western points, from whence it has derived its nickname "Cowtown." It quickly gained a wild reputation, and had numerous well-known lawmen pass through, employed to help keep the rowdy cowboys in line. Among those was Wyatt Earp. Wichita's neighboring town on the west bank of the Arkansas river, Delano, had a particular reputation for lawlessness. In 1880 Wichita annexed Delano.
Following the incorporation of the city in 1870, rapid immigration resulted in a land boom involving speculation into the late 1880s. 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. 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. 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.
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 Beech 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 manufactured in Wichita. Soon after, the Swallow became Wichita's first airplane made specifically for production and the Swallow Airplane Company built 43 of them between 1920 and 1923. 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 the company 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".
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. While 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 Curtis Wright and moved his factory to this plant. Beech's first aircraft was the Model 17, later dubbed the "Staggerwing", was first flown on November 5, 1932. Staggerwing production ended in 1946 (to be replaced by the Beechcraft Bonanza) with approximately 750 built. 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. On February 8, 1980, Beech Aircraft Corporation was purchased by the Raytheon Corporation and later renamed Hawker Beechcraft.
After the 1929 stockmarket crash Stearman and Boeing were acquired by United Aircraft and Transport Corporation. 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 Stearman. That same year the Wichita plant began production of the successful Boeing-Stearman Model 75 Kaydet Navy and Army-Aircorp primary trainer. After the crash of the Boeing XC-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.
The city experienced a population explosion during World War II when it became a major manufacturing center for the Boeing B-29 airplanes 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 employeer.
Wichita saw some of its fasted 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 B-47 aircraft and many B-52s in Wichita. At various times McConnell Air Force Base hosted the 381st Strategic Missile Wing that controlled various Titan 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 ocean going submarines.
Several aircraft from McConnell AFB crashed in the city. On 28-Mar-1956 a Boeing B-47B-35-BW Stratojet, 51-2175, of the 3520th FTW suffered explosion in bomb bay fuel tank and sheds its wings over East Wichita crashing four miles (6 km) NE of the city, killing three crew. On 16-Jan-1965 a fuel laden Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (57-1442, c/n 17513) crashed after an engine failure shortly after take off from McConnell. It incinerated an area near the intersection of 20th and Piatt in Wichita killing 23 on the ground plus the 7 crew members. On 05-Mar-1974 a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (57-1500, of the 91st Air Refuelling Squadron, 384th Air Refuelling Wing) carrying 136,000 pounds of fuel crashed 3,000 feet from the main runway, after it apparently lost power. Two of seven crew were killed.
In 1962, the Lear Jet Corporation began when the Swiss American Aviation Corporation bought 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 late 1980s two 747s were modified at Boeing-Wichita to become VC-25's to serve as Air Force One. In 2012, Boeing announced plans to shut down their Wichita facilities in the face of Pentagon budget cuts. However, the city remains a major manufacturing center for the aircraft industry today, with Hawker Beechcraft, Bombardier, Cessna, and even Airbus all having major manufacturing centers in town."
Wichita was also a significant entrepreneurial business center during the pre and post-war period, with Coleman, Mentholatum, Pizza Hut, 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.
During the April 13–15, 2012 tornado outbreak, a tornado struck on April 14 on the southeast side of Wichita, destroying numerous residences and damaging Spirit AeroSystems, Boeing, Kansas Aviation Museum, McConnell Air Force Base, Hawker Beechcraft.