Cooper was founded in 1881 with the arrival of the railroad, and was named after Des Moines railroad executive F.M. Hubbell's father-in-law, Isaac Cooper. Cooper's population reached a high point of about 250 in 1900.
A fire in 1921 leveled much of Cooper's business district.
In late July, 1980, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) brought 5,000 cyclists pedaling through town. As the cyclists approached from the west, a cannon was fired and a recording of the 1812 Overture was repeatedly played.
Cooper has become nationally known for two things:
1. In 1981 an international search to adopt the 51st citizen of this small town landed residents on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The publicity which followed generated a crowd of nearly 12,500 for the weekend event.
2. Later years home of the "Iowa Boy" Chuck Offenburger.
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