The history of Wichita, Kansas, includes many memorable events. Here are a few standouts from the 1950s in business, civil rights, and entertainment:
Dockum Drug Store Sit-In – July 19 to August 11, 1958
This was one of the first such “peaceful resistance” protests against segregation in the U.S. In July of 1958, Wichita was still a segregated city, so the Dockum Drug Store only served whites at its lunch counter. African American customers had to order their food at the end of the counter, and then take their orders away in disposable containers.
Carol Parks-Hahn and her cousin Ron Walters, both students and members of the NAACP Youth Council, wanted to bring equality to the city. Walters and Hahn organized a group of African-American students, and together they filled the stools at the Dockum Drug Store lunch counter every day, beginning July 19. Every day, the students sat quietly at the counter and asked to be served a soft drink, but the management refused to serve them. The owner finally relented on August 11, and then more Wichita businesses followed suit and ended their segregation policies. After news of this effort spread, other students held similar protests around the country, including a famous series of sit-ins at Woolworth were held around the country, including a famous series of sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.
A statue memorializing this event was erected by the City of Wichita in 1998, near Douglas and Broadway.
Big Ditch completed - 1959
The west side of Wichita, from Hillside to Ridge Road, was built on a floodplain. The Little Arkansas River, Arkansas River, Cowskin Creek and Chisholm Creek all run through that part of town. As a result, West Wichita and the Riverside area were subject to damaging floods every few years. On several occasions over the years, floodwaters reached all the way into downtown. In 1944, a particularly rainy spring caused major flooding 3 times in two weeks, and thousands of people in the city were left without homes.
As a response, a flood control committee was created by Wichita’s City Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Big Ditch in 1959 at a cost of $20 million. It’s made up of more than 100 miles of levees, floodways, and channels, which run for 33 miles along Arkansas River. It’s designed to protect the area from a 100-year flood, which has a 1 percent chance of happening in a given year.
Pizza Hut Founded - 1958
Wichita State University students Dan and Frank Carney started the well-known chain with $600 borrowed from their mother. The first restaurant was originally located at Kellogg and Bluff, but was moved to the WSU campus in 1986, where it still stands today. Pizza Hut’s name was borne out of necessity – the building’s sign would only hold nine letters, so the business name had to be “Pizza + a word with three letters.” Since the building resembled a hut, the name fit in more ways than one.
The first Pizza Hut building has been used as a meeting space by the WSU Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs, the International Business Student Association, and other business student groups. Today, Pizza Hut is an internationally-franchised restaurant chain, but co-founder Frank Carney became a Papa John’s franchisee in the early ‘90s, and even served as their spokesperson in a 1997 ad campaign.
Original Wichita Municipal Airport Became McConnell Air Force Base - 1954
Wichita’s airport was originally located where McConnell Air Force Base sits today. The current Kansas Aviation Museum building served as the Wichita Municipal Airport terminal from 1935 to 1954. In 1951, the U.S. Air Force established a base at the airport. From 1951 to 1954, both military and commercial flights took off and landed on the same air strip. Wichita Municipal Airport moved to its current location April 1, 1954, and was renamed Wichita Mid-Continent Airport 20 years later, in 1974. In 2015, a new terminal was built adjacent to the old one, and named Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower Airport.
The original Wichita Municipal Airport building was used by the Air Force and the Kansas Air National Guard until 1984, when it was abandoned. The City of Wichita acquired the building a few years later, and by 1991, the Wichita Aeronautical Historical Association reopened it as the Kansas Aviation Museum.
“Wichita” the movie is released -1955
This cinematic tale of Wyatt Earp was named after our city, and it stars Lloyd Bridges, Vera Miles, and Joel McCrea held the title role. The movie’s storyline is focused around the time of the gunfight at the OK Corral. A TV western called Wichita Town aired a few years later, in 1959.
Elvis Presley performed at the Wichita Forum – May 18, 1956
Elvis Presley performed two shows at the Wichita Forum on May 18, 1956. Wichita was one of only five stops in the Midwest where Elvis played multiple shows. Before Century II was built, the Forum was located on the same site, and it served as the city’s main event facility until it was torn down in 1965 to make room for the Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center, and Wichita’s central library.
Kiddieland Fantasy World opened – 1959
The amusement park was located on East Harry, across from what is now Via Christi Saint Joseph Hospital. Among other rides, the park boasted two roller coasters, a wood one called the Comet, and a steel one called Comet Jr. Kiddieland closed in 1974 and was torn down. Today, a strip mall stands on the site.