Iowa State Fair

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Iowa State Fair
Genre State fair
Dates 11 days (Starts second Thursday of August)
Location(s) Iowa State Fairgrounds
Des Moines, Iowa
Years active 1854- Present
(excluding 1898, 1942-1945)
Attendance 1,080,959 (2011)[1]
Area 445 acres (180 ha)
Iowa State Fair website

The Iowa State Fair is an annual state fair held in Des Moines, Iowa over 11 days and is one of the largest state fairs in the country.


Site of First Iowa State Fair
The Grand Concourse, located between the Grandstand and the Varied Industries Building, during the 2006 Iowa State Fair

The first Iowa State Fair was staged in Fairfield October 25–27, 1854, with a budget of $323.[2] The Fair was held again in Fairfield in 1855, then for the next several years, moved from town to town, remaining mostly in eastern Iowa. The Fair was held in Muscatine in 1856-1857, Oskaloosa in 1858-1859, Iowa City in 1860-1861, Dubuque in 1862-1863, Burlington in 1864-1866, Clinton in 1867-1868, Keokuk in 1869-1870 and 1874–1875, and Cedar Rapids in 1871-1873 and 1876-1878. The Fair moved permanently within the Des Moines city limits in 1878. After the Iowa State Legislature and the City of Des Moines appropriated funds for the Fair in 1886, it moved to its current location at East 30th and East Grand in Des Moines.[3]

The fair was not held in 1898, due to the celebration of the World's Fair in nearby Omaha, Nebraska, as well as the Spanish-American War, and in 1942-1945 due to World War II, when the state allowed military personnel to use the grounds as a supply depot.[2]

The Fair celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2004, setting an attendance record with 1,053,978 visitors. That number was topped in 2008 with 1,109,150 fairgoers.[2] Visitors spend some $60 million in travel, lodging, restaurants, shopping, and related expenses.[2]

The Fair was the setting for a series of films and stage musicals beginning with State Fair in 1933, which in turn was based on a 1932 novel by Phil Stong.[4]


The fairgrounds are spread over 435 acres (1.76 km2), including 160 acres (0.65 km2) of campsites.[5] Attractions include the Butter Cow sculpted by Iowan Sarah Pratt, a 10 acre midway and its double Ferris wheel, one of the world's largest livestock shows, the country's largest state fair foods department (more than 900 classes), the state's largest arts show, and over 600 exhibitors.[3]

Agricultural contests are held for the largest boar, ram, bull, rabbit and pigeon. There are shows for sheep, swine, beef and dairy cattle, horses, goats, llamas, rabbits, pigeons, cats and dogs. Contests include pigeon rolling, rooster crowing, wood chopping, pie eating, monster arm wrestling, outhouse races, cow chip throwing, and lawn chair toss.

A Heritage Village section depicts Iowa life around the time of the Fair’s establishment in 1854, including church hymn sings, a country school, feneral store barber shop, telephone company and depot.

The Varied Industries Building displays new products and designs. The Iowa State Fair Fabric and Threads Department on the second story displays Iowa’s quilts, rugs, and dolls, and hosts sewing workshops.


The Iowa State Fair is known for its food on a stick, which numbered 57 offerings in 2012. Some of the most distinctive are deep fried, including Snickers, cheesecake, pickle dawg (pastrami or ham with cream cheese and pickle), and butter, a popular addition when it was introduced in 2011. Other meat-on-a stick products include pork chop, the most endemic food at the fair, given the state's status as the country's top hog producer, and a bacon-wrapped hot dog dipped in a cornmeal batter.[6]

The Bill Riley Iowa State Fair Talent Search[edit]

Bill Riley's Iowa State Fair Talent Search debuted in 1959 and features Iowans ages 2 to 21. In 1996, Riley retired after 50 Fairs and 37 Fair Talent Shows and the Plaza Stage was renamed the Anne and Bill Riley Stage. He died in December 2006, succeeded by Bill Riley Jr. Nearly 100 local qualifying shows are held across the state. There are seven days of preliminary competition for Sprouts (ages 2–12) and Seniors (ages 13–21), followed by the semi-finals and, ultimately, the selection of a Sprout and Senior champion.[7]

The Butter Cow[edit]

John K. Daniels' butter cow at the 1911 Iowa State Fair.

The butter cow, an Iowa State Fair staple since 1911, is located in the Agricultural Building. After sculpting her first In 1960, Norma "Duffy" Lyon sculpted all six breeds of dairy cows over the next 45 years, as well as Garth Brooks, a butter version of Grant Wood's American Gothic, the Peanuts characters, Iowa native John Wayne, Elvis Presley, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, various animals and a butter rendition of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. Lyon's was succeeded in 2005 by her longtime apprentice, Sarah Pratt.

Year Additional Butter Sculpture
1996 Grant Wood's "American Gothic" (honoring Iowa's Sesquicentennial)
1997 Elvis Presley
1998 An American eagle
1999 Duffy's own version of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper"
2000 Christian Peterson sculpting "The Gentle Doctor" statue (Petersen was Duffy's mentor and teacher.)
2001 John Wayne
2002 Peanuts Gang
2003 Harley-Davidson motorcycle (in honor of the company's 100th anniversary)
2004 Birthday cake in honor of the Fair's Sesquicentennial and an Iowa barn
2005 Tiger Woods
2006 "Mr. State Fair" Bill Riley (in honor of his 60th Fair) and Superman (Norwalk, Iowa, native Brandon Routh)
2007 Harry Potter
2008 Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and a tribute to four Iowans who changed the face of the world’s agriculture: Etta May Budd, George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug.
2009 Tribute to the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon
2010 50th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’ "Green Eggs and Ham"
2011 Replica of 1911 butter cow sculptures, including a calf, young boy and chicken. A sculpture of a young girl with a butterfly was added as a tribute to Norma "Duffy" Lyon.
2012 75th anniversary of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs


The Iowa State Fair Grandstand hosts events every evening, including auto races, tractor pulls, monster truck events and musical concerts. Performers have included Iowa native Andy Williams, Liberace, Lawrence Welk, Johnny Cash, The Jackson 5, Charley Pride, Sonny & Cher, Elton John, Tammy Wynette, Liza Minnelli, The Beach Boys, Chicago, The Eagles, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Kid Rock, Reba McEntire, Train, Goo Goo Dolls, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Def Leppard, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Bob Dylan, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Pentatonix, and Victoria Justice. Lou Christie has appeared 13 times since the 1960s, the most Grandstand appearances of any performer.

Performers in 2010, included MercyMe, Newsboys, Keith Urban, Shinedown, Jeff Dunham, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, Darius Rucker, Boys Like Girls, Sugarland & Sheryl Crow. In 2012, performers included TobyMac, The Happy Together Tour, Larry the Cable Guy, Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry, Big Time Rush, Hank Williams Jr., Journey & Rascal Flatts.

Iowa State Fair Parade[edit]

The State Fair Parade is held annually downtown before the start of the fair, starting at the State Capitol Complex and traveling west on Grand Ave. to 13th Street.[8] In 2010, there were 200 entrants. The parade is broadcast on television and online on Iowa Public Television.[9] Colonel Robert C. King was the Parade Marshall in 2010.[10] Don Greiman was the Parade Marshall in 2012.

Future dates[edit]

  • 2014: August 7–17
  • 2015: August 13–23
  • 2016: August 11–21
  • 2017: August 10–20
  • 2018: August 9–19 [11]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°35′44″N 93°32′55″W / 41.595556°N 93.548611°W / 41.595556; -93.548611