Oklahoma City is the state capital and one of the largest cities in the United States (647 square miles). It is Oklahoma’s most populous city (population 463,200). Forty percent of the population of the city live in the metropolitan area.
Oklahoma City is one of the main centers of oil production in the United States. It is a commercial and manufacturing center and has the largest cattle market in the world—more than 100 million animals have been sold since 1910. Visitors can observe the fascinating old-time auctions from a raised platform at the stockyards. Oklahoma City is situated on the North Canadian River in the middle of the state. The downtown area remains surprisingly quiet, even sluggish, in this easy-going city, which has a superabundance of museums and art galleries, and some pleasant parks and gardens.
On one single day (April 22, 1889) the population of the future Oklahoma City increased from zero to more than 10,000 as settlers staked out claims around the railroad tracks on land previously granted to the Seminole and Creek peoples. By 1910, when it became the state capital, it was Oklahoma’s largest city with 64,205 people. The huge and vastly prosperous Oklahoma City oil field was established in 1928, initiating a boom as the city became the center of the US petroleum industry. Major industrial expansion commenced in the 1950s and an urban renewal scheme began in the 1960s. Water taxis now ply a canal that flows beside restaurants, shops, and quaint cafès in the historic Bricktown entertainment district.
In 1995, a federal government building was blown up in Oklahoma City by three right-wing extremists, killing 168 people, including 19 children. It was the worst single terrorist act to occur up to that point within the United States. On May 3, 1999 the costliest tornado in US history struck, killing 36 people.
Nothing could be more symbolic of Oklahoma’s economy and history than the fact that its State Capitol, built in 1917, has working oil wells on its grounds. Across the street is the Oklahoma State Museum of History and nearby is the Heritage Hills area, which is home to the Victorian-style Overholser Mansion, built in 1903, the Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion, and the Oklahoma Heritage Center.
One of the city’s most popular attractions is the enormous complex known as the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Here the focus is on the Old West, taking in everything from Bob Wills’ fiddle to John Wayne’s collection of kachina dolls. Within the complex visitors can find the Western Entertainment Gallery, which focuses on western figures from movies and radio; the American Rodeo Gallery; the American Cowboy Gallery; the Frontier West Gallery, with displays on the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, a library of Western history, and a 14,000-square-foot re-creation of a western town circa 1900. The art collection includes paintings by Charles Russell, Frederic Remington, Albert Bierstadt, and contemporary works by Native Americans. Nearby is the astounding Enterprise Square USA, within Oklahoma Christian University—a monument to free enterprise.
The Omniplex at 52nd Street houses a variety of museums and exhibits such as a planetarium, the Kirkpatrick Galleries, an IMAX theater, the Red Earth Indian Center, the Hands-On Science Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and the International Photography Hall of Fame, which displays the world’s largest Grand Canyon photomural. Adjacent to the Omniplex, in Lincoln Park, is the Oklahoma City Zoo, considered one of the 10 best in America.
Oklahoma City’s other museums include the 45th Infantry Division Museum, the country’s largest state military history museum; the Harn Homestead and 1889er Museum, where early twentieth-century life is illustrated by means of a historic buildings collection; the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum, with equipment dating back to the eighteenth century; and the 99s Museum of Women Pilots, which features exhibits about early female pilots such as Amelia Earhart and Oklahoman Bessie Coleman, the first licensed female pilot in the world.
Oklahoma City also has many art galleries. The oldest gallery is the Oklahoma City Art Museum, which has 3,000 works, with an emphasis on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art. The achievements of African-Americans, both locally and internationally, are celebrated at the Freedom Center. At Myriad Botanical Gardens the highlight is Crystal Bridge, a seven-story glass conservatory, 70 feet in diameter, which contains a skywalk, a 35-foot waterfall, and an international flora collection. Oklahoma City is serviced by Oklahoma’s largest airport, the Will Rogers World Airport, and by trains and buses.