Topeka is a city located in Shawnee County, Kansas. With a 2020 population of 125,092, it is the 5th largest city in Kansas (after Wichita, Overland Park, Kansas City, and Olathe) and the 226th largest city in the United States. Topeka is currently declining at a rate of -0.32% annually and its population has decreased by -1.87% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 127,473 in 2010. Topeka reached it's highest population of 128,216 in 2011. Spanning over 63 miles, Topeka has a population density of 2,036 people per square mile.
The average household income in Topeka is $62,597 with a poverty rate of 15.93%. The median rental costs in recent years comes to $790 per month, and the median house value is $102,600. The median age in Topeka is 36.9 years, 35.3 years for males, and 39.2 years for females. For every 100 females there are 92.5 males.
The city’s top employer is the State of Kansas, employing more than 8,000 people. Over 22% of residents work in the educational, health and social services industry, with the city’s four school districts employing about 4,700 people and Washburn University providing around 1,650 jobs.
Topeka’s population has seen its ups and downs throughout the years, with some censuses showing significant, rapid growth while others reflect smaller percentages of growth or even declining numbers. Most recently, the population is down 0.5% since the 2010 census. However, this downward trend is not expected to continue, although a rapid growth of the city is not likely any time in the near future.
As with other cities located in the Great Plains, Topeka was initially inhabited by native tribes. The land that is now Kansas changed ownership several times throughout the 16th and 18th centuries. At the beginning of the 19th century, ownership went to the United States following the Louisiana Purchase.
It was during the 1840s when a ferry service was established crossing the Kansas River. While settlers could cross the river, the area that is now Topeka was not yet developed. It was when a military road was developed in the 1850s when the area was settled. A cabin was built in 1854 and the Topeka Town Association was established. It was during the next decade when the city became a hub for commercial activity.
It was also during this time when the state was admitted to the Union and was the 34th state in the United States. Topeka was selected as the capital. The construction of the capitol building began in 1866 but took 37 years to complete.
Population growth was slow because of a drought in the 1860s and the Civil War. However, once the war was over the city began to grow. During this time, many former slaves settled in Topeka, and Washburn University was also established as the population and the city itself grew. A depression in the late 19th century could have been disastrous but residents made it through, and the population doubled.
The population continued to grow with the introduction of the automobile industry, with Topeka serving as the site of the Smith Automobile Company, which was in business for ten years. Another notable fact about Topeka at this time was that it was the site of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, a Supreme Court case that overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson and made racial segregation in schools illegal. However, despite the court ruling, racial discrimination continued to burden the city for many years.
The city was struck by a devastating tornado in 1966. The city suffered about $100 million in damage because of the tornado and was one of the most expensive in history. However, the city did recover, and its economy and population continued to grow. However, the 1970s saw a drop in population with the closing of Forbes Air Force Base, with more than 10,000 people leaving the city. Population and the city grew again in the next decade with the construction of a mall, airport and convention center.
Today, the city continues to grow as more jobs are created, and the city plans to redevelop many areas, including the State Capitol.