Origins of Kansas City’s nicknames

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Our favorite nickname for KC? Home. | Photo by @punk_off

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Kansas City is full of life… and nicknames. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to find out how the nicknames we’ve grown to love (and the nicknames we avoided) came to fruition.

City of Fountains

Instead of aesthetic purposes, the first fountains around Kansas City were created for practical purposes. They were mostly used as drinking water bins for horses passing through the city. In 1899, George Kessler designed + opened the first city-built fountain at 15th Street and The Paseo. Years passed, and more fountains popped up around the city. Hallmark executive Harold Rice took a trip to Rome with his wife, and they noticed multiple ruined fountains. They did not want Kansas City’s fountains to face the same fate. The City of Fountains Foundation was thus established, and the nonprofit has since worked with KC’s Parks and Rec Department to advocate for the city’s fountains. Today, Kansas City is believed to have more fountains than any other city except for Rome.

Barbecue Capital of the World

Henry Perry, the “father of Kansas City barbecue,” helped set the blazing path for the rise of KC’s world-famous cuisine. In 1908, Perry started selling smoked meats from a pushcart in the city’s Garment District. The meats he cooked included possums, hogs + raccoons. Psst — the popularity of these meats was why Kansas City, MO was almost named “Possum Trot” and “Rabbitville.” After Perry’s passing, Charlie Bryant took over the business + eventually sold it to Arthur Bryant. The business was renamed to his namesake, the barbecue sauce was changed to please more taste buds, and the rest is history. Visit the oldest barbecue spots in the city for a taste of local Kansas City.

Heart of America

Kansas City lawyer Edward J. Shannahan initially came up with the “Heart of America” slogan in 1914 and used it in advertisements. The Commercial Club (now the Chamber of Commerce) then adopted the phrase for a campaign to persuade tourists to pass through Kansas City on their way to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition World’s Fair. If we’re going the practical route, Kansas City is also the geographic center of America. “Heart of America” eventually became the city’s official slogan in 1915. The city can still be seen embracing the slogan till today, with events such as the Parade of Hearts. But, with Kansas City hosting the 2023 NFL Draft + 2026 FIFA World Cup, we think it’s safe to say we’re also the Heart of Sports.

Paris of the Plains

Kansas City’s current dynamic cocktail scene has its origins in the Prohibition era. In the early 1920s, alcohol still flowed freely in Kansas City’s saloons and speakeasies. Tom Pendergast’s control over the city meant that officials were ordered to ignore prohibition laws in parts of KC, allowing clubs and bars to become spots for drinking and partying. A journalist from the Omaha World Herald wrote, “If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris and go to Kansas City,” marking the start of the nickname.

Cradle of Jazz

Another area that bubbled during the Prohibition era? Kansas City Jazz. Lacking liquor laws meant nightclubs could successfully flourish. There was even a point in time where there were over 100 nightclubs in the city that featured Jazz music, allowing musicians like Charlie Parker to truly make their mark in the city. Today, you can take a trip down the cradle of Jazz at spots like The Blue Room.

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