William Rockhill Nelson

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August Meyer, Commercial Club, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The Kansas City Star, The Evening Star



William Rockhill Nelson


William Rockhill Nelson (March 7, 1841 – April 13, 1915),  a road builder from Indiana, founded The Evening Star, later coined The Kansas City Star, and left a legacy that includes Kansas City’s most well known art museum:  Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. Nelson was a man of unwavering principles. According to William Allen White, a writer for The Star,  Nelson was “a rich man willing to attack the rich, especially if they were slumlords thwarting his dreams for a beautiful Kansas City.” Nelson invented the concept of the “open newsroom,” on the basis that if everyone stayed behind closed walls, then everyone else would have to schedule appointments to see each other and no one would get work done.  He also offered his employees nearly a year’s sick pay, and was a well-respected and loved boss.


Nelson was a big opponent of Boss Tom Pendergast and his Machine Politics, a political “system” that aimed to keep all the control of the county and its business and legal affairs “in the family,” so to speak. This system relied on bribery and often bullying in order to set key people in crucial positions such as Jackson County court judges. Nelson used his newspaper to promote his conservative beliefs.  In 1908, The Star stopped advertising liquor for fear it was “encouraging readers to endanger their health and happiness.” Its last alcohol-related advertisement for 40 years was for Good Ole Guckenheimer Rye, whose flavor is “surpassingly fine; its purity is never questioned.”


In addition to his political and cultural contributions to Kansas City, Nelson, alongside Louis Hammerslough, a clothier from Germany and smelting magnate, August Meyer, formed the Commercial Club, precursor to our first Chamber of Commerce.  The club developed the first park board and hired the landscape architect George Kessler to design a master plan for Kansas City’s grand parks and boulevard systems.