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1911-1920: From horses to autos and airplanes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, June 8, 2011, at 11:08 a.m.

Photos

Horses gave way to automobiles and planes became the new industry. More than 12,000 people gathered at the Walnut Grove Air Meet in Wichita in May 1911 to see barnstormers circling and gliding their planes through the air.

In Kingman County, Clyde Cessna, a farmer with no formal training in engineering or flying, took his first flights across Kansas' border into Oklahoma.

After crashing a dozen times before a successful flight, an exasperated Cessna reportedly said of his first plane, "I'm going to fly this thing, then I'm going to set it afire and never have another thing to do with aeroplanes!"

But Cessna had plenty more to do with planes.

He built the first plane in Wichita during the winter of 1916-17 and later founded his own aircraft company in Wichita.

This decade also brings to Kansas a deadly virus.

One of the world's deadliest outbreaks of influenza began in Kansas, at Fort Riley, where soldiers from all over the Midwest trained for Army duty in France, as part of the U.S. involvement in World War I.

Each month, the horses and mules at the fort created 9,000 tons of manure, and piles of it were burned daily. Some say the practice played a part in what happened on March 9, 1918, when a blinding dust storm struck. It mixed the ashes of burned manure with flying dust. Coughing and sneezing, men huddled in makeshift buildings at Camp Funston, a subdivision of the base.

Less than 48 hours later, a company cook named Albert Gitchell came down with a bad cough, fever, a severe sore throat, a headache and muscle pains.

The epidemic had begun. The 1918 flu was most commonly called the Spanish influenza. Some called it the Spanish lady. Old-timers called it the grippe. German soldiers called it Flanders fever.

During this time — with the hardships and horrible news of World War I — Kansans begin to blame one another for their problems.

Some German Catholics and German Mennonites, because of religious convictions, refused to carry guns and go to war.

Many who had lived in the state for nearly half a century still spoke German and came under persecution as the U.S. and its allies fought Germany. They were seen as spies when they corresponded with family still in Europe.

Speaking German was forbidden in schools and churches.

It was not uncommon to see signs in stores throughout Kansas that said "Speak American in this place."

It was a time of union strikes.

On Nov. 1, 1919, more than 10,000 coal miners in southeastern Kansas put down their pickaxes and went on strike.

They wanted a six-hour day, a five-day workweek and a 60 percent raise.

To stop them, Kansas Gov. Henry J. Allen created the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations, whose purpose was to prevent disputes between management and labor.

As winter approached in 1919, Kansas had less than a two-week supply of coal, and striking miners were intolerable to Allen. The governor sent out an appeal to any Kansan to volunteer to work in the mines and jailed the leaders of the strike.

The governor wrote: "If government is to mean anything, then its obligation is to prevent innocent people from becoming the victims of a fuel famine ..."

The leaders of the strike were undaunted.

"The best they can do is to put men in jail," Alexander Howat, coal miner and leader of the Kansas United Mine Workers, said. "We are not afraid of that. We know what we are up against. We will stay in jail until we are carried out."

After negotiations with the miners failed, Howat was imprisoned and the state took charge of the mines. Within a month the strike was resolved.

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