1921-1930: Strikes, frivolity, racism and a crash in spending

01/29/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 2:05 PM

Kansas farmers were encouraged to grow wheat as national demands for grain exports grew.

Thousands of acres of prairie were turned into wheat fields as steam engines and tractors hurriedly took the place of horses and mules.

Banks encouraged farmers to buy new cars and tractors.

The 1920s were a time when women marched on behalf of their coal miner husbands.

In December 1921, a group of more than 7,000 women, nicknamed the "Army of Amazons" marched across the coal fields in southeast Kansas protesting unfair labor laws.

It was the decade when White Castle hamburgers were first created in Wichita and radio was heard in Kansas homes.

It was also the "golden age" of flight when barnstormers emerged as legendary pilots — Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, Amelia Earhart.

Capitalists, such as oilman Jake Moellendick help breathe life into Wichita aviation by creating the Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Co. Moellendick was said to have begun pouring his money into aviation because he needed rapid transportation to his oil wells.

His money brought the talent to Wichita.

Wichita became a virtual think tank of aviation giants. They were men and women who put their lives, careers and everything else on the line to create machines that could fly.

Many of them had been trained as pilots in World War I. When the war ended, they bought their own planes, mostly war surplus aircraft, and flew to earn money.

Walter Beech, a Tennessee farm boy, was a World War I pilot and a post-war barnstormer and salesman. After he left Moellendick's Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Co. in 1925, he founded Travel Air with the aim of crafting the finest-built airplanes in the world.

Lloyd Stearman grew up in Harper, then learned to fly in the Navy. He worked at Swallow, then joined with Beech and Cessna to create Travel Air. Later, his own Stearman Aircraft Co. would lay the foundation for Boeing Wichita. Using plans adopted from Stearman, Boeing built thousands of training planes in Wichita through World War II.

Wichita emerged as a giant in aircraft design and development and at one time boasted as many as 40 aircraft manufacturing firms.

The decade also gave rise to racism — and the Ku Klux Klan became a social club in communities across the state.

After World War I, the Kansas KKK was hostile not only to African Americans but to anybody identified as foreigners — Jews, Roman Catholics, socialists and communists.

It concerned Emporia newspaper editor William Allen White, who ran for governor in 1924 primarily to oppose the KKK.

White ran as an independent. He wrote editorials attacking the KKK, calling its members cowardly.

He didn't win the gubernatorial election, but social opinions about the Klan began to change and the organization lost public favor.

The 1920s were also a decade when radio became king in Kansas homes and promoters could be found for almost any cause.

In the days before Viagra and infomercials, John Romulus Brinkley of Milford promised "youthful vigor" to American men.

He broadcast from his radio station, KFKB, (Kansas' First, Kansas' Best) beginning each day at 5 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m. He filled the hours with music, news, weather reports and, of course, his own program, the "Medical Question Box," reading letters from listeners and prescribing medications for them over the air — which they could then buy at Brinkley-owned pharmacies.

The station soon became one of the most listened-to in America.

Brinkley offered operations where he transplanted the glands of goats into people — which he claimed would cure nearly 30 ailments — from impotence to flatulence, to dementia, earning him the nickname the "Goat Gland Doctor."

A popular joke of the 1920s in Kansas posed the question, "What's the fastest thing on four legs?"

"A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital."

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