Michael Bushnell

Sweeney’s Army Motor Mechanics School is shown on this real photo postcard dated Aug. 18, 1918. The school was founded by Emory J. Sweeney in 1908 at 429 W. 6th Street to teach students to use the “Sweeney System” (hands-on training) to train as auto mechanics and radio technicians.

According to an article in the 1914 Pen and Sunlight Sketches of Greater Kansas City, “Steady growth and increasing demands for Sweeney graduates made larger quarters necessary and space was leased at 1832 Grand Avenue, then later at 2312 E. 15th Street,” now Truman Road.

In February 1911, the school was moved to 1425 Woodland Ave. then to space in the Willys-Overland building at 2501 Grand Ave., shown on the real photo postcard above.

Demand for Sweeney graduates continued to grow and Emory Sweeney commissioned the architectural firm of Keene & Simpson to design a new, larger school on a site just opposite the new Union Station on Pershing Road. The 10-story structure had over 12 acres of floor space and room for over 800 students to live on site. The building featured a private movie theater and a swimming pool in the basement. The claim was made that it had the largest cafeteria in the world as well as the largest electric sign on top of the building that contained over 5,000 electric light bulbs and towered over 80 feet above the roofline.

At each end of the new building were twin radio towers that broadcast Sweeney’s new radio station, WHB-AM. A running internal joke was that the station’s call letters stood for Who the Hell is Boss.
By 1919, following the end of World War I, enrollment had swelled to almost 8,000. Over 14 trades were taught and Sweeney claimed that over the 10 year life of the school almost 90,000 students cycled through the institution.

The school closed in November 1929 very soon after the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. The building was purchased by the Business Men’s Assurance Company and used until 1963 when the iconic BMA Tower at 31st and Southwest Trafficway was completed.

The card was sent to Mrs D.D. Benton of 612 South Mills Street in the Armourdale District of Kansas City, Kan. It reads: “7:30 p.m., Aug. 18, 1918. Dear Sister. I haven’t got much room to write, but just wanted to give you my address. I am writing this before breakfast. I was on guard duty in the Sweeney building from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Saturday. Two hours on, four hours off. Address, Pvt. Paul E. Franzen, Co. 6, Training Detachment, Sweeney Auto School, Overland Building, Kansas City, Missouri.”