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Founding of Oklahoma City

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Oklahoma City before the land run 1889

Oklahoma City was founded by hard-working men and women when this land was opened for settlement on April 22, 1889. The land run spanned 400 acres and became home to 5,000 people overnight.
In the days after the land run, two townsite companies laid claim to various plots of land, each making their own map. On Tuesday, April 23 a mass meeting was held and a committee of citizens was chosen by nomination to reconcile the opposing outlines of the newest city in the old west. Each committee member came from a different state in an effort to form an impartial group.

Oklahoma Townsite Committee














These are 9 of the 14 members of the “citizens committee” tasked with mapping the streets and alleyways of America’s newest city. LtoR Charles W. Price, Colorado; W.H. Ebey, Kansas; John A. Blackburn, Missouri; A.L. Meudlick, Wisconsin; Angelo C. Scott, Kansas; Oscar H. Violet, California; M.U. Barney, Illinois; J.B. Wheeler, Michigan; B.N. Woodson, Texas. 

On March 23, 1889 President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation that opened the Unassigned Lands to settlement, an area that would later become the first six counties in central Oklahoma. The proclamation did not include authorization to form a territorial government, but that did not stop citizens from organizing and holding an election in the dusty streets 10 days after the land run. An election was held on May 1, 1889 to select a Mayor and City Officers. Two wards were established, each with a polling place where male residents over age 18 could cast their votes.

 Oklahoma City three weeks after the land opening 1889









 View of Oklahoma City after three weeks growth, May 1889

On May 2, 1890 Congress formally established boundaries and a government for the Oklahoma Territory, outlining the six original counties, each named County 1 - County 6. Oklahoma City was the seat of County 2, an area with roughly the same boundaries as present day Oklahoma County.  On July 15, 1890 commissioners of County 2 incorporated the Village of Oklahoma City as a tract of 400 acres and appointed a Board of Trustees: David W. Gibbs, T.J. Watson, Nelson Button, Sam Frist, and Henry Overholser.  At the first meeting the city was divided into four wards and an election was called for August 9, 1890. Each ward had two representatives, one serving a single year and the other serving two. 

 The first meeting of the Oklahoma City Council was held on July 22, 1890 and was led by the Board of Trustees who organized the first official election for the City.

The first elected officials in Oklahoma City: 

Mayor William J. Gault
Police Judge W.W. Witten
City Clerk Tazwell M. Upshaw
City Treasurer M.S. Miller
City Engineer P.S. Burns
Council Ward 1 C.A. Peyton, J.R. Barrows
Council Ward 2 J.W. Bales,J.A. Ryan
Council Ward 3 John C. Romick,F.V. Brandon
Council Ward 4 John Brogan,N.N. Miller


In the next 20 years, the population of Oklahoma City grew to over 64,000 people. On October 8, 1910 two land owning citizens from each ward were elected to prepare and propose a City Charter. Five months later, in March 1911, the first City Charter was approved by Oklahoma City voters and Oklahoma Governor Lee Cruce. Oklahoma City continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Changes to the City Charter were approved by voters again on November 2, 1926.  The population of Oklahoma City was 91,000 in 1920 and 185,000 in 1930, a 100% increase in ten years time. The office of City Manager was created and the new Council - Manager form of government that began in 1926 remains in effect today. 

The City Planning Commission issued a comprehensive plan in 1949, estimating the population growth would continue to increase exponentially, and they were right. 

Oklahoma City area growth from 1890 - 1945

This page from the 1949 City Plan shows the changes in the area of the City from 1893-1944.  
The population in 1950 increased almost 20% from the decade before, bringing the post-war population over 240,000. 

The success of business and industry in Oklahoma City was due in large part to the partnership of the Chamber of Commerce and City government officials. The development of a meat packing district was a natural fit for Oklahoma City, as the western boundaries came to include what was known as Packingtown in 1910. Today we know it as the Stockyard City.


The discovery of oil within the city limits in 1928 brought a boom of investors and launched the energy industry which continues to sustain jobs and feed the economy of Oklahoma City in the 21st century. 

Oklahoma City is the seat of government for the state and the county, and continues to foster innovative business ventures in health care, aviation, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Oklahoma City downtown with oil derricks