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Friendship quilt, in the collection of the Kansas Museum of HistoryAdmit Me Free flag, in the collection of the Kansas Museum of HistoryPlaying cards, in the collection of the Kansas Museum of History

Museum collection

The Kansas Museum of History collection is not among those open to the public, but available to research through prior appointment or online. To schedule an appointment, please contact 785-272-8681, ext. 427, or kansasmuseum@kshs.org.

Background

The Kansas Museum of History is a division of the Kansas Historical Society, which was established in 1875. With the original focus of collecting library and archival materials, the Historical Society did not begin collecting objects until 1877. Early acquisitions included pioneer items, objects associated with famous Kansans, relics and curiosities, and Civil War souvenirs.  By 1900 four times as many visitors came to view the objects as to use the documentary materials, and the collecting scope broadened to include objects of daily living, industry and technology, and various cultural groups. 

The museum is the only institution in the state charged with collecting every day, utilitarian objects representing all facets of all Kansans’ lives, from all periods of the state’s history.  Daily life and settlement are present in a wide range of costumes, personal items, furnishings, and military equipage—including items associated with abolitionist John Brown, and one of the nation’s largest groupings of African American Civil War regimental flags. 

Agricultural implements reflect Kansas as a global center of wheat production.  Transportation items illustrate railroading, particularly the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.  Notable communication equipment includes the printing press used by Pulitzer Prize-winning editor William Allen White.  The small art collection has a strong regionalist base, with works by John Steuart Curry and the Prairie Print Makers.  The Populist movement is mirrored in political memorabilia, including important temperance items associated with Carry A. Nation.  The development of the fast food industry appears in Pizza Hut, White Castle, and Harvey House restaurant materials.

Collection Areas

The Image of Kansas

The museum collections comprise much regarding daily life and settlement before World War II. There are a few items from the late 20th century—Coleman coolers from the “Linger Longer” campaign of the 1980s, calendars published by Kansas! magazine in the early 1990s, a postcard from the “Simply Wonderful” campaign, and a few items from the “As Big as You Think” campaign.  There is a fairly large collection of movie posters and lobby cards representing Kansas in Hollywood “B” westerns. 

Cultural differences and expressions

Some items from the state’s Hispanic communities have been collected and include cookware and religious items from a Wichita restaurant owner, political campaign materials, Fiesta clothing, a religious statue, and miscellaneous paper items.   The Hmong population is represented by a small collection of objects acquired through a Kansas City relief organization.

Foodways

The collections include Harvey House items (dinner gong, advertising, pieces of tableware), lots of product packaging and some advertising pieces (many Kansas-made items ranging from jellies to beer), a few items relating to diners, a few vending machines, and a soda fountain and household appliances from the last half of 20th century.

Medicine

A fairly large number of medical and dental tools and equipment are included, plus a group of medical quackery artifacts confiscated by Kansas Department of Health and Environment and some items from the Menninger Clinic.

Education

Traditional school items are included, particularly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  There are 266 donations associated with “Education,” plus 905 related books, booklets, notebooks and scrapbooks.  The collections also include such objects as school bells, buttons, ribbons, chalkboards, globes, certificates/diplomas, clocks, maps, programs, flags, benches, gym suits, and school exhibition models.  A school building—the 1920s one-room Stach School—is displayed on the grounds.  A collection of sports uniforms from 8-man football teams reflects the impact of rural school consolidation.

Religion

Communion sets, Christian symbols, banners, symbols used in churches, certificates, sculptures, Bibles, a Lutheran Church Altar, commemorative plates, stained glass windows are included. Other related items include protest signs from the Phelps family, and religious icons from a Hispanic home in Wichita.

Recreation

The collections currently include a smattering of recreation artifacts from different fields:  hunting and fishing (1960s fishing tackle box, rods and reels, one gun,  mounted birds); outdoor activities (1960s or later water skis, Coleman Company camping equipment, canoe, 1950s outboard motor); athletics (only a few uniforms, also golf clubs, tennis rackets, roller and ice skates, table tennis, Jess Willard boxing gear, soccer t-shirt, a few hockey pucks, posters and schedules, swimsuits, letter sweater, bicycles up to the 1970s), gaming (lottery items, slot machines, deck of cards from a casino, two pinball machines, and a bowling machine from a bar); and festivals and carnivals (mostly badges and t-shirts).

Business and Industry

Aviation

The collections include two early aircraft made in Kansas—the Longren biplane and a helicopter.  There also are 20 airplane models, seven airplane fragments (including four wing ribs and an insignia from a World War I plane), decals used by Albin Longren, advertising materials, parachutes, and five Italian aircraft instruments from World War II.

Agriculture

The collections include many examples of 19th century equipment and tools. Space limitations prevent collecting many larger implements. Smaller items include mid-20th century irrigation siphon tubes, a firestick from a Flint Hills ranch, and literature about low- and no-till operations from No Till on the Plains.

Energy production

Objects include windmills dating from 1850-1920, gasoline pumps, oil pumps 1900-1920, and mining picks (8). There are promotional items addressing wind farming and nuclear energy, distribution tools and equipment (insulators, wire, adaptors, and converters), and an incandescent light bulb “retired” by Westar Energy.

Climate and landscape

The collections include graphic art depicting climactic conditions, household temperature control devices, and clothing, agricultural and transportation equipment, lodging related equipment, and graphic art. There are also environmental items including an irrigation pump, protest costume, and materials promoting recycling.

Politics

The collections include many examples, mostly documentary artifacts, from the Populist/Progressive era in the state’s history. There are a few handbills, badges, pins, and protest signs representing recent and current political movements. 

The Arts

The collections include nearly 3,000 pieces of original art.  The strengths in this collection are prints by the Prairie Print Makers, and several new paintings that depict stereotypical scenes useful for interpretive purposes.  Other examples of artistic expression include phonograph records, painting (paintbrushes, crayons, stencils), photographic (cameras, tripods, darkroom equipment), and musical  (a wide variety of strings and brass instruments).