Fun Facts About the Iowa State Fair You Didn’t Know

Kimberly Ritter

Headed to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines next month? After a break in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Iowa State Fair is back for 2021. Here’s some fun facts about the Iowa State Fair to enjoy before you plan your trip!

The Iowa State Fair is an annual tradition for many. Whether you’re a Des Moines local, making the drive to the fair from out of state or visiting from elsewhere, the Iowa State Fair draws over a million visitors annually from far and wide.

While you may love visiting the Iowa State Fair, how much do you really know about it? Here are some fun facts about the fair that you might not know.

The first fair was not in Des Moines
While Des Moines, Iowa is now the home of the Iowa State Fair, it actually was started in another city. Iowa’s first state fair was held in Fairfield, Iowa in 1854. The budget for this first event was just $323.

The second Iowa State Fair was also held in Fairfield, and then the event moved from town to town for a few years before settling in its current Des Moines home in 1886. The Iowa State Fairgrounds are located at East University and East 30th in Des Moines, Iowa. The location was named to the National Register for Historic Places in 1987.

Usually held before Labor Day
The Iowa State Fair usually runs 11 days and ends two weeks before Labor Day. Upcoming dates for the Iowa State Fair are August 12th to 22nd, 2021; August 11th to 21st, 2022 and August 10th to 20th, 2023.

There have been train crashes at the Iowa State Fair
While the Iowa State Fair is now well attended, in the early days of this event, organizers struggled to attract crowds. In an effort to bring new visitors to the fair, staged train collisions were planned and executed in 1896, 1922 and again in 1932.

So much food on a stick
Food on a stick is an Iowa State Fair tradition. While the official list does vary slightly annually, popular favorites include corn dogs, pickles, corn on the cob, deep fried candy bars and more. Some of the new additions for 2021 include Chicken Bacon Ranch Ball On A Stick and Peanut Butter and Fluff Cookie Dough.

The butter for the butter cow is recycled
If you’ve ever wondered about the butter for the famed butter cow and other butter sculptures going to waste, the good news is that the butter is recycled. The butter used is frozen and stored during the year and can be reused for up to 10 years. Butter sculptures have been part of the Iowa State Fair since 1911. The butter cow sculpture alone takes 600 pounds of butter and over 16 hours to sculpt.

While the butter cow is the best known, other butter sculptures draw crowds at the fair. Some of the most famous include Elvis Presley, Leonardo DaVinci's "The Last Supper", Grant Wood's famous "American Gothic", John Wayne and Harry Potter. The sculptures are showcased in a cooler during the fair in the Agriculture Building where they are kept in a cooler at 40 degrees.

The Iowa State Fair has only been cancelled a few times
In its long and colorful history, there have only been a few years without an Iowa State Fair. The fair was cancelled in 1898 due to the Spanish-American war and the World’s Fair in Omaha. The fair was also cancelled due to war from 1942 to 1945, and in 2020 due to COVID-19.

It inspired the famous musical
The Iowa State Fair was the inspiration for the novel “State Fair” which was written by Iowan Phill Strong, as well as three filks aand the famed Broadway musical.

It is ranked as one of the top events in the country
The Iowa State Fair is consistently ranked as a top event in the country by national media and beating out such major attractions as Times Square and Disneyland.

Whether you love the displays, the concerts, the Midway, or the exhibitions and contests, the Iowa State Fair is a big draw for many to Des Moines, Iowa. Will you be attending this year’s state fair? Leave a comment below!

For more information on the Iowa State Fair, visit

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