A Tale of Two (Kansas) Cities

June 14, 2019

Have you ever wondered why there are two cities named Kansas City…specifically how the larger one isn’t even in Kansas at all?

Kansas City vs. Kansas City

There are two places in the Midwest named Kansas City, and they both sit and prosper along the Missouri River…although on opposite sites. There’s the major metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri (population: 490,000), as well as Kansas City, Kansas (population: 152,000), which is actually and confusingly considered part of the larger Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan area.

Why did it happen?

These two places sprung up independently of one another, so the reason for the two cities with the same name isn’t like how Missouri’s St. Louis has a suburb called East St. Louis just over the border in Illinois. (However, they are very close together — about five miles apart.) Oddly enough, and it sounds counterintuitive, the Kansas City in Missouri was founded before the Kansas City in Kansas. Missouri’s Kansas City started up in 1850, while the Kansas one was officially founded in 1872, bringing together an amalgamation of smaller settlements in Wyandotte County.

Confusing industry and visitors

According to local legend, one of the reasons why the new city named itself Kansas City (even though the name was taken, and so close by) was resentment: The people there reportedly didn’t like how Missouri had a city named after their state. That it was a major, wealthy river-reliant city added insult to injury. So, they sought to steal back some of the attention by purposely trying to confuse industry and individuals to divert money (and visitors) there.

Look to the river

So then why is there a city named Kansas in a state that isn’t Kansas? That’s because it’s not named after the state of Kansas, it’s named after the Kansas River, which in turn gets its name from the indigenous Kansa people. Before it was Kansas City, it was called simply Kansas, when incorporated in 1850, before the official establishment of the Kansas Territory in 1854. When that happened, Kansas the city — located just inside the boundaries of Missouri — changed its name to Kansas City to avoid confusion.