Kansas residents have come up with new innovations, inventions and foods since the territory became a state in 1861. The list is long and varied.
Up, Up and Away
Goodland natives William Purvis and Charles Wilson built the first helicopter in 1909, only six years after the Wright brothers successfully flew an airplane.
Inspired by the sight of children playing with a whirligig, the two men took donations for $30,000 to begin Goodland Aviation. Funds ran out in 1911, just before the United States granted them a patent in 1912. Although Goodland Aviation was unsuccessful, the concept was revolutionary and led to the helicopter as we know it today.
David Blanton invented autopilot in 1954. Growing up in Wichita, Blanton always had a fascination with airplanes.
His father purchased a small plane when he was 5 years old. He loved to refashion toy airplanes as a boy as well.
In 1942 Blanton joined the U.S. Navy and began to fly for his country.
After fighting in World War II and returning home, Blanton wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and went on to found Javelin Aircraft Company of Wichita. His business created small planes, aircraft fuel systems and the autopilot.
Food, Glorious Food
Pizza Hut, White Castle, and ICEE can trace their origins to Kansas.
Wichita State University Campus is home to the first Pizza Hut. Brothers Dan and Frank Carney started one of the most popular pizza chains here in 1958.
The brothers, then WSU students, had the humble goal of opening a small pizza shop. Run with the help of fellow students and family, the restaurant was a success, and the brothers opened a second location in Topeka. Soon, more followed. Today, you can find Pizza Hut in more than 100 countries worldwide.
The first White Castle opened in 1921 in Wichita.
Creator Billy Ingram was intrigued by this idea of the hamburger sandwich. He came up with the name: White for cleanliness and Castle for permanence and strength.
The restaurant became so popular the business began opening locations all over the Midwest.
The ICEE was invented in 1958 by Omar Knedlik, a Dairy Queen owner in Coffeyville. Because he didn’t have a soft drink fountain in his store, he froze bottles of soda and sold them to his customers, still frozen. He decided he wanted a machine that could produce frozen, carbonated drinks. Within five years, he had designed the first ICEE machine.
The Coleman Stove began its evolution in World War II when the company designed the G-I Pocket Stove. After the war, the stove sold for its many home and outdoor uses. You could do light cooking at home, make coffee and hot drinks, or prepare a bowl of soup. You could also use it in the workshop to heat a glue pot or a soldering iron.
Outdoors the Pocket Stove was ideal for picnics or camping trips.
The stove developed into a fold-up camp stove; a staple of camping enthusiasts.
Operator Assistance, Please
It used to be an operator would connect telephone callers. In the late 1800s, undertaker Almon Strowger had a thriving business until a new undertaker arrived in town. The new undertaker’s wife was the local telephone operator. She was directing calls for Strowger to her husband.
Strowger did not think that the idea of an operator connect calls was necessary and created an invention that would allow callers to directly contact each other. Though many other people had this idea, he was the first to develop a working model.
The invention allowed callers to dial each other directly, eliminating the need for telephone switchboard operators. He received a patent for it in 1891 while living in Kansas City.
The automatic fire alarm, invented by Kansas City Fire Chief George C. Hale at the turn of the 19th century, could alert the city’s central fire station to the fire’s exact location. He was also the holder of more than 60 other patents for firefighting equipment, including a special harness that would allow firefighters to harness horses to the fire wagon within a few seconds and the water tower, capable of shooting five and a half tons of water per minute.
Kansas residents have a lot to be proud of, and well, they should. Add to this list medical breakthroughs, natural science, astronomy, and archeology.
Maybe you’ll be the next great inventor to make your home state proud.