Kansas claims only one US president and one US vice president. Dwight D. Eisenhower (b.Texas, 1890–1969) was elected the 34th president in 1952 and reelected in 1956; he had served as the supreme commander of Allied Forces in World War II. He is buried in Abilene, his boyhood home. Charles Curtis (1860–1936) was vice president during the Hoover administration.
Two Kansans have been associate justices of the US Supreme Court: David J. Brewer (1837–1910) and Charles E. Whittaker (1901–73). Other federal officeholders from Kansas include William Jardine (1879–1955), secretary of agriculture; Harry Woodring (1890–1967), secretary of war; and Georgia Neese Clark Gray (1900–95), treasurer of the US. Prominent US senators include Edmund G. Ross (1826–1907), who cast a crucial acquittal vote at the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson; John J. Ingalls (1833–1900), who was also a noted literary figure; Joseph L. Bristow (1861–1944), a leader in the Progressive movement; Arthur Caper (1865–1951), a former publisher and governor; Robert Dole (b.1923), who was the Republican candidate for vice president in 1976, twice served as Senate majority leader and was his party's presidential candidate in 1996; and Nancy Landon Kassebaum (b.1932), elected to the US Senate in 1978. Among the state's important US representatives were Jeremiah Simpson (1842–1905), a leading Populist, and Clifford R. Hope (1893–1970), important in the farm bloc. Gary Hart, a senator and a presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, was born in Ottowa, Kansas, on 28 November 1936.
Notable Kansas governors include George W. Glick (1827–1911); Walter R. Stubbs (1858–1929); Alfred M. Landon (1887–1984), who ran for US president on the Republican ticket in 1936; and Frank Carlson (1893–1984). Other prominent political figures were David L. Payne (1836–84), who helped open Oklahoma to settlement; Carry Nation (1846–1911), the colorful prohibitionist; and Frederick Funston (1865–1917), hero of the Philippine campaign of 1898 and a leader of San Francisco's recovery after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Earl Sutherland (1915–74) won the Nobel Prize in 1971 for physiology or medicine. Other leaders in medicine and science include Samuel J. Crumbine (1862–1954), a public health pioneer; the doctors Menninger—C. F. (1862–1953), William (1899–1966), and Karl (1893–1990)—who established the Menninger Foundation, a leading center for mental health; Arthur Hertzler (1870–1946), a surgeon and author; and Clyde Tombaugh (1906–97), who discovered the planet Pluto.
Kansas also had several pioneers in aviation including Clyde Cessna (1880–1954), Glenn Martin (1886–1955), Walter Beech (1891–1950), Amelia Earhart (1898–1937), and Lloyd Stearman (1898–1975). Cyrus K. Holliday (1826–1900) founded the Santa Fe railroad; William Coleman (1870–1957) was an innovator in lighting; and Walter Chrysler (1875–1940) was a prominent automotive developer.
Most famous of Kansas writers was William Allen White (1868–1944), whose son William L. White (1900–73) also had a distinguished literary career; Damon Runyon (1884–1946) was a popular journalist and storyteller. Novelists include Edgar Watson Howe (1853–1937), Margaret Hill McCarter (1860–1938), Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879–1958), Paul Wellman (1898–1966), and Frederic Wakeman (b.1909). Gordon Parks (b.1912) has made his mark in literature, photography, and music. William Inge (1913–73) was a prize-winning playwright who contributed to the Broadway stage. Notable painters are Sven Birger Sandzen (1871–1954), John Noble (1874–1934), and John Steuart Curry (1897–1946). Sculptors include Robert M. Gage (1892–1981), Bruce Moore (1905–80), and Bernard Frazier (1906–76). Among composers and conductors are Thurlow Lieurance (b.Iowa 1878–1963), Joseph Maddy (1891–1966), and Kirke L. Mechem (b.1926). Jazz great Charlie "Bird" Parker (Charles Christopher Parker, Jr., 1920–55) was born in Kansas City.
Stage and screen notables include Fred Stone (1873–1959), Joseph "Buster" Keaton (1895–1966), Milburn Stone (1904–80), Charles "Buddy" Rogers (1904–99), Vivian Vance (1912–79), Edward Asner (b.1929), and Shirley Knight (b.1937). The clown Emmett Kelly (1898–1979) was a Kansan. Operatic performers include Marion Talley (1906–83) and Kathleen Kersting (1909–65).
Glenn Cunningham (1909–88) and Jim Ryun (b.1947) both set running records for the mile. Also prominent in sports history were James Naismith (1861–1939), the inventor of basketball; baseball pitcher Walter Johnson (1887–1946); and Gale Sayers (b.1943), a football running back.