Kansas City and the Railroads

Community Policy in the Growth of a Regional Metropolis

Charles N. Glaab

Kansas City was only one of several trading centers along the Missouri River in the mid-nineteenth century. And not the largest at that. But it expanded rapidly into the region's leading commercial city while nearby towns showed only moderate growth or were absorbed by their suddenly urban neighbor. Why did Kansas City take off while others stayed behind? Kansas City got the railroads, says Charles Glaab.

But major rail lines did not merge in Kansas City by happenstance. In this classic urban study, Glaab illustrates the crucial role entrepreneurship and boosterism played in determining rail locations and consequently urban-growth patterns. To persuade the railroad companies to connect through Kansas City rather than its rivals—Leavenworth, St. Joseph, Westport, Independence, Lawrence, and Athison—local boosters, chief among them journalist Robert T. Van Horn, developed better community policies, formed stronger coalitions, and implemented more effective economic development programs than their neighbors.

“A valuable contribution to urban history. Glaab has provided much descriptive detail to show the effects of local railroad promotion on the growth of a city.”

Mississippi Valley Historical Review

“Not only does Glaab provide a fascinating study of the development of leadership patterns and the nature of the political process in pioneer communities; he also relates what happened in Kansas City to the mainstream of events of the day.”

American Historical Review
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Political maneuvering, individual decision making, and local promotion of internal improvements, as well as greed and corruption, Glaab contends, played key roles in determining the location of this regional metropolis. Extending beyond the borders and idiosyncrasies of one urban area, Glaab also demonstrates how what happened in Kansas City is representative of what happened across the western half of the United States.

First published in 1962, Kansas City and the Railroads remains highly regarded as a landmark study of the forces that shaped the growth of urban America. In this edition, Glaab has included a new preface explaining the development of this study and its relation to the literature that has appeared over the last thirty years.