Expansion, Agriculture Closely Tied To One Another

Town and Country

Kansas City's location crucial to establishing hard red winter wheat production in the region.

Published on: May 10, 2013

Last week I finished up the 2013 Hard Winter Wheat Quality Tour by visiting the Kansas City Board of Trade – which, as many know, has been acquired by CME Group and will be moved to the Chicago trading floor in July. Since then, I've done some digging into the role the KCBT and Kansas City played on agriculture in the area.

The Board of Trade was first organized in 1856, just three years after Kansas City was incorporated. However, it was during the 1870s that Kansas City, and many other towns on the frontier, saw a huge expansion.

As KCBT president and CEO Jeffrey C. Borchardt pointed out in a 2006 speech citing a book by local author Heather Paxton honoring the Board of Trade's 150th anniversary, this couldn't have happened without adequate transportation into the city. In 1865, Kansas City's population was 3,500, and by 1870 it grew to 32,000, which Borchardt said was largely due to the construction of the Hannibal Bridge in July of 1869, allowing trains to cross the Missouri River.

The 1870s also saw a rise in the amount of grain handled. Railroad expansion, construction of grain elevators, and importation of the new Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat by Russian Mennonite farmers were important contributors, Borchardt noted. The first large elevator in Kansas City was built in 1871 by Henry Joseph Latshaw and R.W. Quade. It had a 100,000 bushel capacity and cost $22,000, although it was made of wood and burned down in 1873.

Along with the population expansion, production grew as well, demonstrating the relationship between agriculture and a central city. Without both – and the help of the railroad, the region wouldn't have prospered the way it did. Borchardt noted wheat production rose from about 168,000 bushels in 1860 to25 million bushels in 1875, while the Kansas City market grew from handling 687,000 bushels of wheat and 350,000 bushels of corn in 1871 to 9 million bushels of wheat and 5 million bushels of corn seven years later.