Staircase of Entrepreneurs

The Kansas City Public Library surveyed the community to select Kansas City's most influential entrepreneurs. The results of this survey—eight prominent business men and women—became the Staircase of Entrepreneurs, whose names are engraved on the steps inside the H&R Block Business & Career Center.

The remainder of the nominees is featured on the Wall of Honor.

Entrepreneurs:
François Chouteau
William Rockhill Nelson
J.C. Nichols
Joyce C. Hall
Nell Donnelly Reed
Clara and Russell Stover
Arthur Bryant
Ewing Marion Kauffman

 

 

"They are extremely happy, those who do not experience sorrow on account of their children."


François Chouteau, 1797-1838

Established a flourishing trading post at present-day Kansas City in 1821

François Chouteau was born into a powerful French fur trading family that had been in the present-day American Midwest since the days of New France. Before he was 20, Chouteau began purchasing furs gathered by the Osage, Kansa, and Pawnee Indians in western Missouri. His company, Berthold, Chouteau & Pratte, was a semi-independent branch of the monopolistic American Fur Company. In 1822, Chouteau established a trading post near the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers.

On some days, Chouteau's enterprise would ship up to 27,000 pounds of deer, otter, beaver, muskrat, and raccoon skins down the Missouri River to St. Louis for sale to merchants. During Chouteau's lifetime, his trading post consisted of only a few dozen families of mostly-French ancestry, but it was the first continuously-occupied white settlement in what is now Kansas City and a major commercial success. In the 1820s, most travelers simply referred to the area as the "Chouteau's Landing" in honor of François and his wife, Bérénice Ménard Chouteau, who sought to bring a true community spirit to the small, crude settlement. François Chouteau died abruptly at the age of 41 while standing on the bank of the Missouri River.

"Had he lived longer, he might have followed the paths of his father, his uncle…going into other business ventures – banking, land, property development – as his town grew and flourished."—Shirley Christian, Before Lewis and Clark

Recommended books:
Cher Uncle, Cher Papa: The Letters of François and Bérénice Chouteau
By Dorothy Brandt Marra
977.8411 M358C

Frontier Community: Kansas City to 1870
By A. Theodore Brown
977.8411 B87F V.1

The Beginning of the West: Annals of the Kansas Gateway to the American West, 1540-1854
By Louise Barry
MVSC 978.1 B28B

Chez les Canses: Three Centuries at Kawsmouth: The French Foundations of Metropolitan Kansas City
By Charles E. Hoffhaus
977.8411 H69C

More about François Chouteau on KCHistory.org.

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William Rockhill Nelson

"The most stubborn obstacle to the progress of a growing city is lack of foresight—the inability to comprehend the needs of the future. Stagnation, obstruction, and opposition are its fruits, and the only way to overcome it is by ceaseless effort."


William Rockhill Nelson, 1841-1915

Co-founder, The Kansas City Star newspaper

William Rockhill Nelson was born into a wealthy family, although his father expected him to earn his own way. Ambitious but arrogant in his youth, Nelson became a lawyer and worked for Samuel J. Tilden's failed presidential campaign in 1876. He was intrigued by the prospect of using newspapers to inspire social change and searched for a promising Western city that could support a new newspaper. In 1880 he moved to Kansas City and founded The Kansas City Evening Star with his business partner, Samuel Morss; an experienced journalist who left the paper after several months due to health problems.

Renamed The Kansas City Star in 1885, the newspaper's reporters focused on local news and campaigned relentlessly for improved public infrastructures and civic institutions. By 1891, the Starhad become the dominant newspaper in Kansas City and the surrounding hinterlands. Nelson—who gained the honorific of "Colonel" and also dabbled in Kansas City real estate development—grew very wealthy and sought to enrich his adopted hometown with classical art and literature. One such effort resulted in the Western Gallery of Art at the Kansas City Public Library in 1897. Upon his death in 1915, Nelson dedicated his fortune to the construction of a first-class art museum. Combining his estate with another, the Nelson trustees opened the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 1933 on the site of his former mansion.

"...He was never a colonel of anything; he was just coloneliferous."
William Allen White, William Rockhill Nelson: The Story of a Man, a Newspaper and a City

Recommended books:
William Rockhill Nelson: The Story of a Man, a Newspaper and a City
By members of the staff of the Kansas City Star
92 N432K

William Rockhill Nelson and the Kansas City Star: Their Relation to the Development of the Beauty and Culture of Kansas City and the Middle West
By Icie F. Johnson
MVSC 92 N432J

Kansas City: An American Story
By Rick Montgomery and Shirl Kasper
977.8411 M78K

The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City
By William H. Wilson
MVSC 333.77 W75C

More about William Rockhill Nelson on KCHistory.org.

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J.C. Nichols

"We believe Kansas City has a great future as a residential Mecca for many splendid families."


J.C. Nichols, 1880-1950

Real estate visionary who created the Country Club Plaza and numerous residential districts

Jesse Clyde (J.C.) Nichols entered the Kansas City real estate business when he was in his early twenties. Success came quickly after 1905 when the 25-year-old Nichols began development of the Country Club District, which grew to encompass 1,000 acres in just four years. He soon became nationally known and emulated for his creative use of zoning restrictions, city planning, and neighborhood covenants to ensure the permanent beauty and appeal of his developments, many of which remain among Kansas City's choicest residential sections.

One stratagem Nichols used was to design developments to utilize automobiles; a new mode of transportation at the time. In the 1920s, his Country Club Plaza shopping district was the first in the country created specifically for access by car. Other Nichols developments included Indian Hills, Mission Hills, Sunset Hills, Romanelli Gardens, and portions of Prairie Village. He also assisted in the creation of noteworthy Kansas City landmarks and institutions, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, Liberty Memorial, the Midwest Research Institute, and the North American Aviation plant that later became the General Motors Fairfax plant. In 1950, Nichols succumbed to cancer and left behind a legacy that is physically visible to all who pass through Kansas City.

"Unless Republicans camp out in the stockyards, where the [national] convention starts tomorrow, they will have a hard time leaving this city without treading on ground owned or developed by the J.C. Nichols Company."—Jean Christensen, The Kansas City Star, August 15, 1976

Recommended books and film: J.C. Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City: Innovation in Planned Residential Communities
By William Worley
333.77 N61zw

Community Builder: The Life & Legacy of J.C. Nichols (film)
DVD 333.77 N61ZC

Kansas City: An American Story
By Rick Montgomery and Shirl Kasper
977.8411 M78K

Here Lies Kansas City: A Collection of Our City's Notables and Their Final Resting Places
By Wilda Sandy
977.8411 S22H

More about J. C. Nichols on KCHistory.org.

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Joyce C. Hall

"One of the things that gave me an extra drive to succeed was a good appetite. I want to eat regularly—and I had seen stretches when I didn't."


Joyce C. Hall, 1891-1982

Founder, Hallmark Cards; the largest greeting card manufacturer
in the world

Joyce C. Hall spent a portion of his Nebraska childhood in poverty. In 1910, he moved to Kansas City with $3,500 of savings and plans to sell a line of postcards. Later his brothers joined him and founded Hall Brothers Company. Business boomed after 1917 when they decided to produce their own line of greeting cards.

In 1954, they renamed the business Hallmark Cards. Under the slogan "when you care enough to send the very best," Hallmark became the world's largest producer of greeting cards, and added to its reputation with the Hallmark Hall of Fame television programs. Over the years, Joyce Hall made generous donations to the Kansas City Art Institute and, with his son Donald, opened the Crown Center complex near downtown Kansas City. The Hall Family Foundation also supports economic development, education, and the arts in the community. Since Hall's retirement in 1966, his son and grandson have been deeply involved in the company's operations. Joyce Hall died in 1982 at the age of 91.

"Until his semiretirement, no greeting card reached the marketplace unless he had scrawled ‘OK, J.C.' on the back of the original."—As reported in The Washington Post, October 30, 1982

Recommended books:
When You Care Enough
By Joyce C. Hall with Curtiss Anderson
338.767 H17Z

Leaders in Our Town
By Dick Fowler
MVSC 920.0778 F78L

Kansas City: An American Story
By Rick Montgomery and Shirl Kasper
977.8411 M78K

Here Lies Kansas City: A Collection of Our City's Notables and Their Final Resting Places
By Wilda Sandy
977.8411 S22H

More about Joyce C. Hall on KCHistory.org.

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Nell Donnelly Reed

"I just did what came naturally."


Nell Donnelly Reed, 1889-1991

Founder, Donnelly Garment Company; one of the largest women's ready-to-wear dress manufacturers in the world

Born Ellen Quinlan in 1889, she moved to Kansas City in 1906 and married Paul Donnelly soon thereafter. Nell Donnelly loathed typical housewives' daily wear of the day – dreary, shapeless dresses. An excellent seamstress who sewed clothes for herself, and then for family and friends, Donnelly went into business in 1916. Her attractive but still affordable dresses that sold for one dollar apiece became known as "Nelly Dons" and were an instant hit. By the early 1930s, the Donnelly Garment Company grew to employ more than 1,000 workers. Employees received excellent benefits such as tuition assistance, hospitalization insurance, and a clean, safe work environment.

In 1931, sensational headlines reported the two-day kidnapping of Nell Donnelly that ended in her safe release. The following year, she divorced Paul Donnelly, and bought his share of the company for a million dollars. In 1933, she married James A. Reed, a former Kansas City mayor and U.S. senator from Missouri. Nell Donnelly Reed ran her dress company until 1956, when she retired and focused on philanthropy. One of her lasting contributions was the donation of 840 acres of land for the James A. Reed Wildlife Area near Lee's Summit. At the age of 102, she died peacefully in her Kansas City home.

"At present, with her gross business maintained throughout the depression... she may be the most successful businesswoman on pure balance sheet showing."—As reported in Fortune, September 1935

Recommended books & film:
Nelly Don: A Stitch in Time
By Terence Michael O'Malley
977.8411 R32ZO

Nelly Don: A Stitch in Time (film)
DVD 977.8411 R32ZN

Called to Courage: Four Women in Missouri History
By Margot Ford McMillen and Heather Roberson
MVSC 920.72 M16C

Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies
Edited by Mary K. Dains
920.72 S559

More about Nell Donnelly Reed on KCHistory.org.

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Clara and Russell Stover

"I've got the
perfect name...
‘Eskimo Pie!'"
—Russell Stover


Clara and Russell Stover:
Clara 1882-1975, Russell 1888-1954

Founders, Russell Stover Candies Inc.; the largest boxed chocolate manufacturer in the U.S.

Partners in marriage and business, Clara and Russell Stover became candy makers after a failed attempt at farming in 1911. Russell then worked for several candy factories and observed all aspects of their management. As a side-business, Clara experimented with home-made chocolates that Russell sold to local pharmacies. In 1921 an opportunity arose when inventor Christian Nelson presented his chocolate-coated ice cream bars, which could be made without melting the ice cream. Seven skeptical companies turned Nelson down before the Stovers entered a partnership with him to patent and market the product.

The treats, called "Eskimo Pies," almost instantly captivated the nation. Some cities sold over 100,000 each day. By 1923, large competing companies had created knockoffs of the original and spent vast sums of money to defeat the Stovers' patent claims. Still determined, Clara and Russell Stover used their earnings to found "Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies" in 1924. In 1925, they opened factories in Denver and Kansas City. They moved their headquarters to Kansas City in 1931 and renamed it "Russell Stover Candies" in 1943. Over the years it grew into one of the largest candy manufacturers in America.

"The penniless country boy seeking his fortune in the big city is an old, old story and Russell Stover followed the pattern."—Dick Fowler, Leaders in Our Town

Recommended books:
The Life of Russell Stover
By Clara Stover
338.766 S889zs

Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies
Edited by Mary K. Dains
920.72 S559

Kansas City Women of Independent Minds
By Jane Fifield Flynn
920.72 F64K

Leaders in Our Town
By Dick Fowler
MVSC 920.0778 F78L

More about Clara and Russell Stover on KCHistory.org.

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Arthur Bryant

"You don't get fancy with barbeque. When you get fancy, you get out of line."


Arthur Bryant, 1902-1982

Built Arther Bryant's into a world-renowned barbeque restaurant

Arthur Bryant was born on a Texas farm in 1902. He was a top student at Prairie View A&M, an all-black college, but turned down offers to teach agriculture classes. In 1931, he moved to Kansas City to be with his brother, Charlie Bryant. They worked for Kansas City barbeque restaurateur Henry Perry. In 1940, Charlie purchased the business, and in 1946 Arthur took over. Arthur tinkered with the recipes and renamed the eatery "Arthur Bryant's." He unashamedly called it a "grease house" and kept a low-key, no frills environment.

In 1958, Bryant relocated the business to its present location at 1727 Brooklyn Avenue near the old Municipal Stadium and a larger base of customers. A local culinary landmark with a national reputation thanks in part to the paeans by Kansas City-born writer Calvin Trillin, Arthur Bryant's has hosted U.S. presidents and other leading political figures as well as numerous celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment. Bryant died in 1982 from a heart attack while at work in the restaurant. By then his contributions had helped Kansas City earn its reputation as one of the world's best barbeque cities.

"Quite possibly the best restaurant in the world."—Calvin Trillin

Recommended books:
The Grand Barbecue: A Celebration of the History, Places, Personalities and Techniques of Kansas City Barbecue
By Doug Worgul
641.578 W92G

Kansas City: An American Story
By Rick Montgomery and Shirl Kasper
977.8411 M78K

More about Arthur Bryant on KCHistory.org.

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Ewing Marion Kauffman

Answering why he started building his fortune: "a figurative kick in the pants when I was a younger man. They fired me when I refused to take a cut."


Ewing Marion Kauffman, 1916-1993

Founder of Marion Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company, and owner of the Kansas City Royals

Ewing Kauffman grew up in Kansas City. He became an Eagle Scout and later served in the Navy during World War II. After the war he worked as a pharmaceutical salesman. He became so successful that his commission actually exceeded the earnings of the president of the company. In 1950 his employers accordingly cut his maximum allowable earnings, prompting him to resign and found Marion Laboratories in his mother's basement with a $5,000 loan. By 1989, its total revenues neared a billion dollars, and its merger with Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals that year reportedly made 300 people into millionaires.

The company's rapid growth allowed Kauffman to build an enduring philanthropic legacy that ensured almost universal recognition of his nickname, "Mr. K," in Kansas City. Since the mid-1960s, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has provided grants to support education and aspiring entrepreneurs. At the urging of his wife, Muriel Kauffman, he also established the Royals baseball team and accompanying Royals Stadium in Kansas City in 1968 and 1973, respectively. Believing the team to be an economic boon—and wanting it to remain in Kansas City indefinitely—Kauffman stipulated in his will that local owners had to hold at least half of the team. In 1993, he died in his sleep in his Mission Hills home.

"I understand that anybody who stays with Mr. Kauffman for 15 years becomes a millionaire."—Cedric Tallis, executive vice president of the Royals, March 11, 1969

Recommended books and film:
Prescription for Success: The Life and Values of Ewing Marion Kauffman
By Anne Morgan
338.761 K21ZM

The Philosophies of Mr. K: Simple Truths from a Remarkable Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
By Ewing Marion Kauffman
MVSC Q PF 338.761 K21Z

Mr. K: A Common Man with Uncommon Vision: The Story of Ewing Marion Kauffman (film)
DVD 338.761 K21ZC

More about Ewing Marion Kauffman on KCHistory.org.

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