Several companies moved into the spotlight in Kansas City’s history, becoming places where thousands of people worked.
A fledgling TWA, then known as Transcontinental & Western Air, established its headquarters in Kansas City in 1931. Later renamed Trans World Airlines, it grew to become Kansas City’s largest and most glamorous employer and gave the town an international cachet, even after the executive offices moved to New York. But after many years of decline and three trips to bankruptcy court, Kansas City’s “hometown airline” was taken over by former arch-rival American Airlines in 2001.
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In the arc of Kansas City history, Marion Labs, was relatively short-lived, but it will long remain a touchstone for the city as a company whose founder touched many in business and community. Founded in 1950 by Ewing Marion Kauffman, the pharmaceutical company merged with Merrell Dow in 1989 and eventually folded into drug conglomerate Sanofi-Aventis. Besides returning major league baseball to the city, Kauffman also left his money to a foundation that researches and promotes entrepreneurship. The company’s generous employee stock ownership program created wealth for many workers, and its legacy also is seen in the number of pharmaceutically related companies they spawned.
The country’s largest maker of greeting cards and personal expression merchandise, Hallmark Cards Inc. is one of the best known brands from Kansas City in the international market. It is also a prime example of businesses in the city whose family charitable giving has been deeply imprinted on the area.
Sprint Corp., the country’s third largest U.S. wireless company, traces its lines back to the Brown Telephone Co., founded in 1899 in Abilene, Kan. As Kansas City’s largest private employer with more than 16,000 local employees, some believe that as Sprint goes, so goes the area economy.
Many see Garmin Ltd. of Olathe and Cerner Corp. of North Kansas City as representing what the future of Kansas City area business could look like. Garmin, which makes Global Positioning Systems, and Cerner, a maker of health-care software systems, are high-growth companies built on intellectual heft.
— Julius Karash and Eric Palmer