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Museum - Recent Past Exhibit

Recent Past exhibit of the Kansas Museum of History

Take a walk through the 1940s to 1980s at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, and view items from the recent past.

You'll see:



1940s section of Recent PastThe time period begins with the nation at war. More than 215,000 Kansas men and women served their country in military uniform during the war, and more than 3,500 made the ultimate sacrifice. 

Kansans built airplanes in Kansas City and Wichita: 52,000 Kansans, many of them women, turned out 24,000 airplanes. They joined the national scrap drive to collect paper, rubber, metal, and other materials, bought war bonds, and grew "Victory Gardens."

During the 1940s Kansans listened to radio programs and Big Band music. Kansas born jazz artist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker developed his "bop" sound. Harry Colmery of Kansas drafted the G.I. Bill of Rights that provided financial support for returning soldiers to attend college. State and national semi-pro baseball teams appealed to returning soldiers. Negro baseball leagues began to decline with the integration of professional teams.


1950s section of Recent pastThe Cold War between communism and democracy reached Kansas. Kansans built nuclear missile silos as a deterrent to foreign aggression and they built fallout shelters in their backyards and basements. More than 50,000 Kansans were involved in the Korean War.

Dwight D. Eisenhower of Kansas became the 34th president of the United States. A new prosperity emerged as Americans bought new homes, new cars, and televisions. Viewers enjoyed watching Gunsmoke, one of the most popular and longest running series in television, which depicted an image of Kansas as the Wild West home of the cowboy.

Manufacturing surpassed agriculture and Wichita, "Air Capital of the World," grew its claim.The flood of 1951 encouraged more flood control reservoirs. The state embarked on an extensive high program with the opening of the Kansas Turnpike and Eisenhower's Interstate 70.

A group of 13 plaintiffs began a fight in 1951 for African American children to attend their local schools. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education, named for one of the plaintiffs from Topeka, that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal.


1960s section of Recent pastIn 1961 Kansans celebrated the state centennial. Agriculture in western Kansas was transformed through irrigation and large beef cattle feedlots and processing plants were established.

Inspired by the Russian's launch of Sputnik in 1957, the U.S. became involved in the space race. Kansans Joe Engle and Ron Evans were part of the Apollo program to land on the Moon. More than 90,000 Kansans were involved in the Vietnam War, more than 700 lost their lives.

Kansans spent their leisure time enjoying television programs like Laugh-In and Batman, and listening to The Beatles. They were also involved in outdoor sports such as water skiing, hunting, and fishing.

New toys that reflected changing lifestyles became popular with children including Barbie dolls and GI Joe dolls. Other fads included troll dolls, skateboards, space age toys, and yo-yos.


1970s section of Recent pastKansans were impacted by an oil embargo in the Middle East, causing panic at the pump. Astronaut Evans was command module pilot on Apollo 17, the last of the Moon missions. Kansans Engle and Steven Hawley became involved in NASA's Space Shuttle program.

America celebrated the nation's bicentennial in 1976. It was a time of movements: Kansas farmers joined the American Agriculture Movement; women, the elderly, and minority groups became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by the book and television miniseries Roots, Kansans renewed an interest in their ethnic heritage.


1980s section of Recent pastKansans Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum represented the state in the U.S. Senate. Kansas City Royals fans cheered for their team in the World Series. Kansas voters approved pari-mutual betting and liquor-by-the-drink in 1986. Thanks to the invention of the microchip by Kansans Jack Kilby, electronic devices, like personal computers and sound systems, offered new technology for the home. "Pong" was a popular game played using a television monitor.