Located directly in the center of the United States and situated on the Great Plains, Kansas is known for its beef, contributions to jazz, the old-West Dodge City – and as Dorothy’s “no place like home” in the classic children’s book and film “The Wizard of Oz.”
Kansas’ path to statehood was long and bloody, with nomadic Native American tribes inhabiting the area and hunting bison for thousands of years before the first white settlers – led by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado – arrived in 1541, a full 80 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
During the 18th century, the land was traded between France and Spain before becoming a U.S. territory as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed settlers to decide whether the territories would be admitted as free or slave states in a bitterly divisive period leading to the Civil War, and violence broke out when the North and South competed to send the most settlers to the area in what became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
Admitted as a free state, Kansas became the 34th state in January 1861, less than three months before the Civil War began with the firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. During the war, Kansas suffered the highest mortality rate of any Union state.
Clashes with Native Americans continued until the last raid in 1878, and rapid settlement contributed to the frontier state’s population, agricultural and industrial growth. By the 1930s, though, the yearslong Dust Bowl drought and dirt storms drove thousands of people from southwestern Kansas.
The state was a battleground of the civil rights movement, and in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the doctrine of “separate but equal” facilities in public schools was unconstitutional.
During the second half of the 20th century, the urban population of Kansas increased by about 20 percent, while most rural regions faced slow population decline.
Today, The Sunflower State is home to 2.9 million people. With just under 390,000 residents, Wichita is the most populous city, followed by Overland Park, Kansas City, Olathe and the capital, Topeka.
The state’s population growth has been slower than average, and it is one of the less diverse states. About 87 percent of residents are white, though the state’s growing Hispanic population – nearly 12 percent in 2016 – is higher than in most of its bordering states, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Less than 12 percent of Kansas residents speak a language other than English at home and only about 7 percent were born outside the U.S., both about half the rate as in the rest of the country.
Just under one in three Kansas residents over 25 has at least a bachelor’s degree, and 90 percent graduated from high school.
The state’s natural resources play a significant role in the economy. Kansas’ main industries include manufacturing – particularly in aviation and aerospace – as well as bioscience, wind energy, professional services, renewable fuels and bioenergy.
Family-owned farms and ranches account for 86 percent of the state’s nearly $20 billion agricultural industry, and one-fifth of the country’s wheat is produced in Kansas. It also leads in the production of beef and grain sorghum, traditionally used for livestock feed and some ethanol plants.
Kansas is one of the more religious states, with 76 percent of adults identifying as Christian. As Kansas’ population growth has slowed, it has lost electoral votes, dropping from 10 in the early 20th century to a mere six today. It has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.