Wichita, Kansas, is known for being the “Air Capital”, but it’s also the birthplace of several well-known companies. The city’s entrepreneurial spirit is supported by Wichita State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which is one of the first such college centers in the country. Check out these nationally-known businesses founded right here in Wichita.
Founded by Albert Alexander Hyde, 1889.
Hyde was a banker who came to Wichita to invest in real estate. When the bubble burst in 1887, he shifted his focus to making soaps and medicines. He created Mentholatum, an ointment made from menthol and petrolatum that soothes pain, itch, colds, and bug bites. The Mentholatum Company was first located at 1213 E. Douglas, in Wichita. Its second location, the Mentholatum Building, still stands as the current home of the Spice Merchant, at the corner of Douglas and Cleveland.
Steffan-Bretch Ice and Ice Cream Company (Steffan's Dairy/Hiland Dairy)
Founded by Nicholas Steffen, 1899.
Steffen started selling ice cream on Saturdays and holidays at his bakery and restaurant in 1882. He was the first person in the U.S. to ship ice cream commercially. He was shipping more than 20,000 gallons per year to Wichita and surrounding communities by the year 1900. Steffen created cartons with wire handles for customers to take their ice cream home. Steffen’s Ice Cream Stores became Hiland Dairy Foods Company, but no longer sells ice cream.
The Coleman Co.
Founded by William Coleman, 1900.
Mr. Coleman developed his lanterns because his eyesight wasn’t good, and gasoline-fueled lamps had a white, steady flame that was better than kerosene lamps. The first night football game west of the Mississippi was at Fairmount College (now Wichita State University) in 1905. The game was lit by Coleman’s gas lamps, and the Wheatshockers earned a shutout victory. His lanterns were invaluable to rural communities that didn’t have electricity, and his gas stoves were vital to U.S. military during World War II.
Founded by Walter Anderson, 1921.
Credited with being the first fast food chain in the United States. The first restaurant was at First and Main in Wichita, Kansas. Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle (1906) caused many people to be skeptical of ground beef because of poor meat packing standards. White and stainless steel were used prominently to make the restaurants and food seem clean. There are currently no White Castle restaurants in Kansas.
Founded by Clyde Cessna, 1927.
Cessna initially produced passenger planes, seaplanes, gliders, racers; worked on Boeing B-29 and Douglas A-26 components during WWII. Since then, the company has focused on small business planes. Cessna has the distinction of selling more aircraft than any other company, and producing the most popular plane in history – the Cessna 172. Its headquarters are still located in Wichita, Kansas.
Beech Aircraft (Raytheon/Hawker Beechcraft)
Founded by Olive Ann and Walter Beech, 1932.
The first Beechcraft, a business plane called the Model 17, was faster than military pursuit planes. The Model 35 Beech Bonanza has been continuously produced since 1947. All four branches of the military use Beech C-12s. The company merged with Raytheon Corporate Jets in 1994 to become Raytheon Aircraft, and in 2007 became Hawker Beechcraft Corporation.
Founded by Dan and Frank Carney, 1958.
The Carney brothers were Wichita State University students, and their mother loaned them $600 to start the business. They had to offer free pizza the first night to get people to try it. The company is called Pizza Hut because its first location looked like a hut, and there was only room on the sign for nine letters. That building still stands on the WSU campus.
Lear Jet (Bombardier Learjet)
Founded by William Lear Sr., 1962.
Learjets have set several world speed records. In 1967, controlling interest was sold to Gates Rubber Company, and the business became Gates Learjet Corporation. In 1985, Learjet was contracted to build a part for one of the space shuttle’s booster rockets. The company was acquired by Bombardier in 1990.
Founded by Dan and Robin Foley, 1962.
The company is a franchised fast-food chain. In the late 80s, Dan Foley sold the company and the new owner changed the meat recipe. Customers disliked the new taste so much that the recipe was changed back to the original. Taco Ticos are located in the midwest and southeast United States. In 2013, several Kansas restaurants were closed because of bankruptcy and unpaid taxes. Some locations have been reopened under new ownership.
Founded by Thomas Devlin and W. Frank Barton, 1973
Pizza Hut founders Dan and Frank Carney served on the Rent-A-Center board. Devlin discovered the rent-to-own concept while working for Ernie Talley in the 60s at his store in Wichita. Talley let customers rent products until they had paid for the items in full. Devlin and Barton sold Rent-A-Center to a British company in 1987. Wichita State University has buildings named after both men.
Residence Inn (by Marriott)
Founded by Jack DeBoer, 1975.
DeBoer started the extended stay hotels in Wichita, Kansas. Residence Inns were the first all-suite hotels. There were more than 100 locations when Marriott acquired the chain in 1987. DeBoer is also founder of Summerfield Hotels, Candlewood Hotels, and Value Place.
Freddy's Frozen Custard
Founded by Scott Redler, Randy Simon, Freddy Simon, and Bill Simon, 2002.
The company is named after Randy and Bills’ father, Freddy. Its founders wanted to create a restaurant that reminded them of the custard stands they visited as children. The company focuses on a simple menu, quality control, and customer service. By the end of 2013, more than 100 Freddy’s had opened in the United States.
Who Did We Miss?
Are there any big-name businesses founded in Wichita that we missed? Add your suggestions to the comments.