The Story of Kansas

H&R Block and founders had roots in Kansas City

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series' name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: "To the stars through difficulties."

It was two brothers, an idea and a $5,000 loan more than half a century ago that evolved into one of the biggest tax preparation companies in the world. Henry W. Bloch and his brother, Richard, founded H&R Block in 1955. The brothers grew up in Mission, near Kansas City, Kan. Their father was an attorney.

After serving as a navigator on B-17 bombers in World War II, Henry graduated from the University of Michigan and then attended Harvard Business School. It was there he adopted a business philosophy to serve individuals and small businesses.

His brother, Richard, graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. Their older brother, Leon, studied law at the University of Missouri.

According to a corporate history on the H&R Block company’s website, Henry and his brother, Leon, founded the United Business Co. in 1946. The company offered bookkeeping and other services.

When the business didn’t immediately take off, Leon left the company to return to law school.

Henry continued the business. He soon advertised that he wanted to hire another employee. His mother suggested he hire his brother Richard.

Initially, the Bloch brothers decided their company would offer bookkeeping services. Tax preparation would be offered as a courtesy to their friends and customers.

Shortly before the 1955 tax season, the brothers decided they’d no longer do taxes for other people. But a client suggested they give it one more try and advertise in the Kansas City Star.

It was a hit.

Up until the 1950s, the Internal Revenue Service would fill out tax returns for people who went to a local IRS office. After the 1954 tax season, the service was discontinued.

The brothers started a new company, changing the name from United Business Company to H&R Block, making it easier for people to spell and say their last name.

In the 55 tax seasons since, the corporation has prepared more than 500æmillion tax returns and operates more than 12,000 offices in the nation and an additional 1,300 throughout the world.

In 1986, the company worked with the IRS in filing 22,000 returns electronically from two sites. That, too, was a hit.

In the Kansas City area, Henry Bloch is known as a supporter of the arts and education. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art includes the Bloch Building, which houses contemporary and African art, photography and special exhibits.

Henry Bloch retired as chairman of the company in 2000; Richard died July 21, 2004.