The essence of Boys State is a program in which participants learn about leadership by becoming a mock, or virtual, government. This technique, which we refer to as learning-by-doing, was the goal Legionnaires Hayes Kennedy and Harrold L. Card wanted to reach when they founded Boys State in Illinois in 1935.

Kansas was the fifth state in the country to adopt this program. The first session of Boys State was held June 6 - 12, 1937 at Wichita University (renamed Wichita State University) in what is now called Wilner Auditorium. The program was also held at North High and West High during the Wichita years.

In 1963 the program moved from Wichita to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

In 1991 the program moved to its current location, Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.