Wichita can be considered the “bumblebee city.” If the bumblebee is the insect that should not be able to fly but does, Wichita is the city that shouldn’t be here but is. A visitor to the area in 1871 would have been well advised to bet on Newton, on a major transcontinental route, as the dominant community of the area.
In the late 1800s, Wichita was a stop on several rail lines but was just one of many centers among of a patchwork of branch lines and feeder routes that tied southern Kansas and Indian Territory to the Santa Fe, Missouri Pacific, and Union Pacific.
When highways developed in the early 1900s, Wichita was again sidelined, with the great transcontinental highway of U.S. 50 passing through Hutchinson and Newton rather than Wichita. When Interstates came on board, the Kansas Turnpike became part of I-35, a major north-south conduit in a part of the country where the truly important routes ran east and west!
Aviation initially offered promise for Wichita becoming a major transcontinental air stopover. However, air routes tended to follow population centers, so larger cities like Kansas City, Dallas, and Denver became home to terminals and important national airlines. By the time the hub system emerged, Wichita was already on its way to being a feeder to regional hubs.
Transportation routes are often keys to the success of a city’s growth. What is striking in the case of Wichita, however, is how it developed despite not being on the major transportation conduits of the nation.