Iowa State Fair
|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (May 2013)|
|Iowa State Fair|
|Dates||11 days (Starts second Thursday of August)|
|Location(s)||Iowa State Fairgrounds
Des Moines, Iowa, United States
(excluding 1898, 1942–1945)
|Area||445 acres (180 ha)|
|Iowa State Fair Website|
The first Iowa State Fair was staged in Fairfield October 25–27, 1854, with a budget of $323. 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.
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.
The fairgrounds are spread over 450 acres (1.8 km2), including 160 acres (0.65 km2) of campsites. 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.
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 and dogs. Contests include pigeon rolling, rooster crowing, wood chopping, pie eating, monster arm wrestling, outhouse racing and cow chip throwing.
A Heritage Village section depicts Iowa life around the time of the Fair’s establishment in 1854, including church hymn sings, a country school, general store, barber shop, telephone company and train 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 an annual Sew-In.
The Iowa State Fair has a variety of food, including healthy and gluten-free offerings from more than 200 food stands. The fair is known for its food on a stick, which numbered 70 offerings in 2014. 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.
The Bill Riley Iowa State Fair Talent Search
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. The Talent Search celebrated its 55th year at the 2014 Fair.
The Butter Cow
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 was succeeded in 2006 by her longtime apprentice, Sarah Pratt.
|Year||Additional Butter Sculpture|
|1996||Grant Wood's "American Gothic" (honoring Iowa's Sesquicentennial)|
|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.)|
|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|
|2006||"Mr. State Fair" Bill Riley (in honor of his 60th Fair) and Superman (Norwalk, Iowa, native Brandon Routh)|
|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|
|2013||A Tribute to the Historic Lincoln Highway (and President Lincoln)|
|2014||25th anniversary of Field of Dreams|
|2015||Monopoly's mascot Rich Uncle Pennybags - 80th Anniversary|
The Iowa State Fair Grandstand hosts events every Fair day, including auto races, tractor pulls, demolition derbies 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 2014 included Newsboys, Matthew West, Goo Goo Dolls, Daughtry, Plain White T's, Florida Georgia Line, Colt Ford, Jake Owen, Eli Young Band, The Cadillac Three, Chevelle, Halestorm, Saville Row, Lady Antebellum, Billy Currington, Foreigner and Styx.
Performers for the upcoming 2015 Fair include: Casting Crowns with for KING & COUNTRY,Justin Moore with Easton Corbin, Def Leppard with guests Styx and Tesla, Reba with special guest Caroline Kole, Carrie Underwood with Michael Ray, Yes, Toto, Alabama and special guest Chris Janson, The Fray with special guest Andy Grammer, and Meghan Trainor with guests Charlie Puth and Life of Dillon.
Iowa State Fair Parade
The State Fair Parade is held annually in downtown Des Moines before the start of the Fair, beginning at the State Capitol Complex and traveling west on Grand Avenue to 13th Street. The state's largest parade, this kick-off to the Fair features 200 novelty and performing units.
- 2015: August 13–23
- 2016: August 11–21
- 2017: August 10–20
- 2018: August 9–19 
- 2019: August 8–18
- 2020: August 13–23
- 2021: August
- Iowa State Fair trivia
- Iowa State Fair History
- Iowa State Fair Media Guide
- "State Fair". University of Iowa Press (online catalog). Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- Fritsch, Jane (August 13, 1023). "At the Fair, Do Calories on a Stick Count?". New York Times. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
- "Iowa State Fair Food". IowaStateFair.org.
- Bill Riley Talent Search
- Iowa State Fair Parade