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Monthly Event Highlights: William Volker & Co
March 1 - March 31
A slice of Kansas City History: the story of William Volker
The year was 1881 and Kansas City experiencing rapid growth. Before the 1880’s Kansas City was the same size as Independence Mo and Leavenworth Ks. In 1867 the Missouri Pacific RR came to Kansas City defeating Leavenworth and Independence for freight supremacy in the crossroads of the US.
William Volker came from Chicago as a young man with a dream to establish a home furnishing company that would supply furniture, carpet, linoleum and window treatments to growing towns all over Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma Territory and Colorado.
[Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri. SHSMO-KC]
Mr. Volker’s decision to locate here was simple. It was the transportation hub of the US second only to Chicago, then and now. Union Station then located in the west bottoms serviced over 100 passenger trains a day and at least that many freight trains as well. Mr. Volker’s sales force would travel from town to town in horse drawn wagons selling his merchandise to furniture stores/funeral parlors. His first building was at 9th and Washington in today’s garment district. In 1917 Mr. Volker bought a new larger building to handle his rapidly growing business. It’s was located at 3rd and Main St, just up the hill from the West Bottoms with trains going in every direction delivering his merchandise to stores all over the lower Midwest, West and South.
Mr. Volker never owned a car or learned to drive. He would take the streetcar to where the Valentine District is today and walk home to where the Wm Volker District is today west of SW Trafficway. The company became known as William Volker & Co. It would become the largest home furnishings distributor in the United States with 29 branches in every state west of the Mississippi. While one the wealthiest businessmen in Kansas City, Mr. Volker was virtually unknown. He became one the most prolific philanthropists in Kansas City, yet no one knew him. After his death in 1946, his name began to be seen on fountains, streets and even UMKC’s Wm. Volker Campus. If you look you might find a book in KC’s downtown Mid-Continent Library called Mr. Anonymous, a book about Mr. Volker’s life and how he quietly gave millions of dollars to all manner of charities here in Kansas City. He was truly one of the building blocks in the Urban Core.
Eighty-eight years later… on September 4th, 1969, a bright eyed 22-year-old kid walked through the front door of Wm Volker Co at 6 West 3rd to begin an eight week training course. Those eight weeks would become a 50+ year career in the flooring business. That magical fall would turn into a lifelong love affair with Kansas City and all its history, fountains, sports, museums and its wonderful people. It wasn’t until December of 1975 that he would return to KC for good, to help raise two kids and establish friendships that are still strong today.
Mr. Volker’s name is still on the building at 3rd and Main and every time I drive by that building I flash back to that day in 1969 when I crossed through that door to start my life-long training in sales that I now call relationship building.
All the best-
Here’s more William Volker KC fun facts… William Volker built his first home at 29th and Jefferson in Kansas City. Interestingly, this location is the same place where the iconic statue The Scout sits today.
The William Volker Memorial Fountain in Kansas City was dedicated in 1958. Appropriately, sculptor Carl Milles named the piece St. Martin and the Beggar. It is located on the North East corner of Volker Blvd & Oak St. More info at KCfountains.com! Another fun fact about The William Volker Memorial Fountain… upon closer examination of the sculptures, you’ll see a wrist watch on the seated angel & the flying angel is playing the flute backwards. Not exactly historically accurate but the sculptor’s spoof on KC.