The Collections of the Kansas City Museum: Preserving History into Perpetuity

A 1914 Cadillac touring car partially uncovered in museum storage.

Containing more than 100,000 objects, the historical artifacts and archives of the Kansas City Museum collection offer a rich sampling of Kansas City’s local and regional history while representing the daily lives of past generations, from the mundane to the extravagant. The museum and its collection are irreplaceable civic assets. 

The objects in the Kansas City Museum’s collection are cultural heritage materials representing the tangible and intangible. They are used for educational and research purposes, and for the enjoyment and enrichment of visitors. The museum is in the “forever business,” aiming to collect, manage, store, care for, curate, display and preserve objects, materials and archives into perpetuity.

As the Kansas City Museum defines new long-term strategic goals, priorities include making the collection more accessible through additional digitization and traveling exhibits; upgrading storage systems and cabinets for the clothing collection; and collecting materials from 1970 to present day as well as materials that will support telling the stories of the city’s historic neighborhoods.

The buildings and grounds of the Kansas City Museum are owned by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, while the collections are co-owned by the Kansas City Museum Foundation and Union Station Kansas City (coming from the merger in 2000 of the Kansas City Museum Association, which operated from 1940-2000, and Union Station Assistance Corporation). All of the collections are managed and preserved by the Kansas City Museum Foundation’s staff of museum-trained professionals.

Encyclopedic in nature, the collection is organized into several core groups.

The Archives

A significant component of the collection is the Archives, which contain a wide variety of documentary source materials. Of particular note are the photograph collections, featuring:

  • the entire output of local photographer Warner Untersee of Warner Studio
  • film collections including the earliest footage known to exist of Kansas City, taken by George Curtiss
  • television news footage of the 1960s and ’70s
  • manuscript collections featuring the former city archives collection of George Fuller Green
  • business and organizational records
  • family papers of several local families
  • many other ephemeral collections

The Archives is also home to a strong collection of local aviation materials.

A peek at racks of historic clothing in the museum’s storage facility.

Clothing and Textiles Collection

The Kansas City Museum has one of the largest and best-represented collections of clothing materials in the Midwest, with everything from couture gowns to day dresses, uniforms to overalls, shoes to hats and everything in between. Additionally, the collection includes examples of many kinds of quilts and coverlets.

Garment District Collection

The Kansas City Museum is home to the Historic Garment District Museum’s collection of historic clothing and archives. Clothing examples made by local companies from the 1920s through the 1970s are included, with over 350 garments in the collection plus numerous objects such as equipment and marketing pieces. The collection highlights about a dozen companies who helped make up Kansas City’s garment district, one of the largest in the nation.

Loula Long Combs Collection

A legendary figure of Kansas City, Mrs. Combs was the first lady of the show horse world and daughter of Robert Alexander Long, owner of Corinthian Hall (now the Kansas City Museum). Loula’s collection encompasses artifacts from both her personal and professional lives, including carriages and tack, trophies and ribbons, clothing and accessories, and archival collections of photographs, film and family memorabilia.

Miss Shizuoka, the museum’s Japanese Friendship Doll, seen here in her custom storage box.

Medical Collection

In 2015, the Kansas City Museum added one of the best medical collections in the Midwest to its holdings. The Donald Piper Memorial Medical Museum is a 15,000 plus strong collection of instruments, archives and ephemera related to the St. Joseph Hospital in particular, and Kansas City medical history overall. The collection of St. Joseph Hospital is part medical history and part corporate history and includes everything from doctor’s bags to delicate baby respirators. It has unusual items as well as numerous examples of mundane items showing the progression of technological improvement.

Firefighting Collection

The partnership with the Kansas City Fire Historical Society brings with it a collection of firefighting equipment, memorabilia and records. This is a great addition to the unique collection of trophies, badges and memorabilia of Fire Chief George Hale.

Transportation Collection

One of the fastest growing collection groups is in transportation and contains a large collection of rail memorabilia, automobiles, a homemade motorcycle from the turn of the century, the Loula Long Combs carriage collection, and a rare Butler Blackhawk airplane.

A view of Pueblo pottery in storage is one of several types of cultural artifacts in the museum’s Daniel and Ida Dyer Collection of Native American Culture.

Daniel and Ida Dyer Collection of Native American Culture

An Indian Agent in the 1880s, Daniel Dyer and his wife Ida continued to amass artifacts from every native culture in North America up until the time of his death in 1912. This collection is known for its many outstanding examples of tribal life with strong emphasis on Southern Plains tribes.

GLAMA Collection

The GLAMA Collection — Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America — was started as a collaboration between three history organizations led by UMKC’s LaBudde Special Collections, Kansas City Museum and Jackson County Historical Society to collect, preserve and make available material that tells the stories of the LGBTQ communities of the Kansas City region. The Kansas City Museum’s collection includes the Melinda Ryder collection of costumes, pageant and performance materials; the DeDe De Ville Collection, which includes costumes and performance materials; the AIDS Service Foundation Archives; and more. To learn more about GLAMA, visit libweb.umkc.edu.

To learn more about the Kansas City Museum, visit kansascitymuseum.org.

Museum storage and glimpses of items in storage is the subject of a film showing at the Kansas City Museum by AWStudio.

–Anna Marie Tutera

CategoriesArts Partners
KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

Leave a Reply