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Museum - Trains and Towns Exhibit

Trains and Towns section of the Kansas Museum of History

Learn about our state's exciting transportation history at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.

You'll see:

Ways of moving people, mail, and freight have always been important to communities.

Native peoples living on the prairie used horses for hunting, carrying belongings, and moving to new regions. White settlers brought stagecoach lines to the rough roads and steamboats to the larger rivers. In 1860 the first locomotive rolled onto Kansas soil, and new rails spread rapidly after the Civil War ended in 1865.

No business had a greater impact in Kansas than the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, founded in 1860. Trains carried passengers and their baggage, mail, and manufactured goods into the state. They carried farm products out of Kansas to eastern markets. Nearly everyone depended on the trains in some way, and the presence of a railroad could make or break a town.

Eventually, competition from other forms of transportation caused many miles of rail lines to be abandoned.

Longren's biplane.Kansas provided American aviation with some of its most notable pioneers. Pilot Amelia Earhart of Atchison gained national prominence in 1928 for being the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane. Dissatisfied with her role as merely a passenger on that flight, four years later she piloted her own plane across the Atlantic.

Walter Beech, Olive Ann Beech, Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman, and others laid the foundations for the Kansas aviation industry. As many as 20 aircraft manufacturers were operating in the state during the 1920s. In the following decade, Wichita claimed the title "Air Capital of the World." Today the city hosts a number of aircraft companies, including Boeing, Cessna, and Bombardier (Learjet).

"They tell you in Wichita that the city's aviation history began 'aeons and aeons ago when prehistoric seas subsided, leaving a vast mid-continental plain that was destined to become the largest natural airport in America.' "
—John Nevill, Aviation, 1930