Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index

Industry was the complement of agriculture during the first fifty years of settlement in Kansas. This relationship was first evident in 1827 when Daniel Morgan Boone, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Gabe Phillebert, settled at Stonehouse Creek and tried to introduce the white man's farming methods to the Indians. Phillebert, a blacksmith, set up his forge and supplied the crude implements needed by Boone and his pupils. When not mending or making ring hoes and plowshares, Phillebert hammered out pots and kettles with which the Indians replaced their primitive utensils.


Flour milling had its Kansas beginning in 1852 when Matthias Split-log, a Wyandot Indian, established a horsepower mill near the site of Kansas City. The first waterpower mill was built five years later beside Mill Creek in what is now Wabaunsee County. The milling industry developed rapidly thereafter, and by 1860, according to census figures, there were 62 waterpower mills and a larger number of horsepower mills in the Territory of Kansas.

In point of income flour milling is today the second largest Kansas industry. In the decade 1927-37 Kansas led all other States five times in the annual production of flour. The yearly output during that period varied between 12 and 17 million barrels. According to the 1937 report of the Bureau of the Census, U. S. Department of Commerce, the wheat storage capacity of Kansas mills (43,000,000 bushels) exceeds that of any other State. The main milling centers are at Salina, Topeka, Wichita, Atchison, Hutchinson, and Kansas City.

In the early years of Statehood the minerals of Kansas were not exploited, although the settlers knew of rich deposits of oil and coal. As early as 1806 explorers had noted that Kansas Indians wore ornaments of lead. Seventy years later lead and zinc were discovered near the site of Galena, and 10,000 miners immigrated to the region. Throughout the 1880's the Galena field was known as a "poor man's diggings" because of the many one-acre claims which were worked with windlasses and hand jigs. Large-scale operations were begun in 1899. The ore production of Kansas increased steadily in succeeding years, mounting to 28,463 tons of lead and 126,307 tons of zinc in 1926. A slump set in during the next decade; the ore output for 1936 totaled 11,409 tons of lead and 79,017 tons of zinc.

A similar decline, caused largely by the increasing use of gas and oil for fuel, has been noted in the coal industry. Following the opening of the first mine in 1866, the annual output increased with the population, reaching a peak of 7,561,947 tons in 1917. During 1936 the 77 mines in Kansas produced only 3,147,225 tons; in the following year 61 mines produced about 2,000,000 tons. But the dwindling part played by coal, lead, and zinc in the State's economy has been more than counterbalanced by the development of oil resources. A. D. Searl, a surveyor, found oil oozing from the earth near the site of Paola in 1855. On returning to his home in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, Searl informed Dr. G. W. Brown of his discovery. Dr. Brown came to Kansas in 1859, verified Searl's find, and organized a company which leased thirty thousand acres in Miami County. In 1860 the company drilled three wells. The first two were "dry holes," the last struck oil and salt water at 270 feet.

Throughout the first quarter century of its development, Kansas oil had a small intrastate sale as a lubricant. The wells were shallow and in some instances the oil was obtained by merely skimming it from the surface of streams. By 1889 the annual production of petroleum averaged five hundred barrels. In that year the Kansas legislature recognized the presence of the new industry by enacting a law that required the inspection of petroleum sold as an illuminating agent.

Kansas oil was vigorously exploited during the first decade of the present century. Wells that pumped one thousand barrels a day were "shot" in Montgomery County in 1903. The annual production of the State soon reached 3,000,000 barrels, at which point it hovered for more than a decade. Stimulated by the opening of the Butler County field, the Kansas output for 1916 climbed to 8,000,000 barrels and rose to 36,500,000 barrels the following year.

During 1937 the 18,000 wells in Kansas produced 69,000,000 barrels of oil. The oil fields extend south from Kansas City crescent-wise to the Oklahoma line, and thence northward through the central part of the State. The wells in the eastern part are shallow "strippers" which yield between 10 and 12 barrels daily. Those in central Kansas pump as much as 2,250 barrels per day. Petroleum refining has become the third most important Kansas industry.

Nelson Acres, an oil prospector, struck a pocket of gas near lola in 1873. His discovery was first utilized in 1889 by the city of Paola, and seven other communities installed gas systems in the following year. By 1925 approximately 27,000,000 cubic feet of gas were consumed annually. This quantity was more than doubled in the next decade, amounting to 57,125,000 cubic feet during 1935.

About two hundred gas wells were drilled in Kansas between 193235. Gasoline extraction from natural gas amounted to 36,900,000 gallons during 1936. The largest pocket of natural gas is the Hugoton field at the southwestern corner of Kansas, and smaller pockets exist throughout the oil producing area. One of the three helium plants in the country is at Dexter. When first discovered in 1907, Dexter residents, unaware of the incombustible nature of helium, piped it to their homes and, by reason of the natural gas it contained, managed to ignite it for cooking and illumination.

The total mineral production of Kansas during 1937 was valued at $156,000,000. It included gas, oil, coal, lead, zinc, sand, gravel, stone, chat, pumice, cement, and salt. The latter mineral was discovered near Hutchinson in 1887 by Ben Blanchard, an oil prospector. Exploitation began in 1888 at the rate of 500 barrels per day. At present (1938) Kansas is third among the States in the production of salt. The largest mines are at Hutchinson; others are at Lyons, Anthony, Kanopolis, and Little River.

Several decades before the first oil well was drilled in Kansas, petroleum scooped from the tops of pools was customarily used to grease the wheels of freighters traveling the Santa Fe Trail. Pack trains began to follow this route in the 1820*5, and by 1860 about 3,500 men were employed in its commerce.

Following the completion of the Santa Fe Railway in the 1 870's, the Santa Fe Trail fell into disuse and its Kansas length was subsequently overgrown with wheat. But the trail left its mark on the economic pattern of the State. According to business analysts, the commerce of Kansas still flows in a southwest direction, and the trade area of a Kansas city generally extends west and south, seldom north and east.

Of later origin than the Santa Fe Trail, but of greater economic importance, was the Chisholm Trail, named for the half breed Cherokee who in 1865 marked off its route with the wheels of his trade wagon (see WICHITA). The Chisholm Trail was the main outlet for Texas cattle in the 1870'$. During the two decades in which the trail was used, about 5,000,000 longhorns were herded over it to shipping points in Kansas. Meat packing plants were consequently established at Salina, Kansas City, and other communities. The first meat ever transported in refrigerator cars was shipped from Salina in 1872. In point of income meat packing is now the largest Kansas industry. The average output of the packing plants at Wichita and Kansas City is valued annually at more than $125,000,000.

In 1937 Kansas had 36 insurance companies, 104 national farm loan agencies, 140 building and loan associations, and 515 state and private banks. Public utility corporations included 4 in water, 23 in electricity, and 36 in gas. There were 338 Kansas telephone companies.

According to the 1935 U. S. Census of Manufactures, Kansas had 1,508 manufacturing plants whose total output that year was valued at $468,690,290. Excluding the three major products already named meat packing, flour milling, and petroleum refining the largest items were, in the order listed, butter, printing and publishing, railroad repair shops, wholesale poultry dressing and packing, stock and fowl feeds, machinery, cement, salt, ice, and structural and ornamental metal work. The same census enumerated 4,621 wholesale establishments, 9,290 service establishments, and 27,433 retail stores.

Contemporary industries include the manufacture of trailers at Augusta, airplanes at Wichita and Kansas City, strawboard at Hutchinson, garden tractors at Galesburg, snow plows at Wamego, and agrol a gasoline that contains alcohol extracted from grains at Atchison. Pipe organs are manufactured at Lawrence, beet sugar at Garden City, paving material at Moline, locomotive parts at Atchison, linseed oil and linseed stock feed at Fredonia, bean-picking machines at Cawker City, carbon black at Hickok, stoves at Leavenworth and Wichita, furniture at Garnett and Leavenworth, soap at Kansas City, steel fixtures at Ottawa and Topeka, ceramic products at Havana, and oil field machinery at Wichita and Independence. Of its raw foodstuffs, Kansas ships wheat in the greatest quantity, one-third of the average annual crop of 170,000,000 bushels going to outer-state markets.