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, United States
Years active 1854–present
(excluding 1898, 1942–1945)
Attendance 1,130,071 (Record) (2017) [1]
Area 445 acres (180 ha)
Iowa State Fair Website

The Iowa State Fair is the annual state fair that began in 1854. It is based in the state capital Des Moines, Iowa over 11 days in August. With over a million visitors it is one of the largest and best known state fairs in the United States. [2]


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. [3] 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. [4]

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. [3]

The Fair was the setting for a series of films and stage musicals beginning with State Fair in 1933, which was based on a 1932 novel by Phil Stong. [5]

Since 2002, because of the 9-11 attacks, the Des Moines Police, the Polk County Sheriff and the Iowa State Police enhance security at the Fair.


The fairgrounds are spread over 450 acres (1.8 km2), including 160 acres (0.65 km2) of campsites. [6] Attractions include the Butter Cow sculpted by Iowan Sarah Pratt, a 10-acre midway and its 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. [4]

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 over 70 offerings in 2015. Some of the most distinctive are deep fried, including Snickers, Oreos, fried Cokes, 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. [7] [8]

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., who has been host since 1997. 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 completed its 59th year at the 2017 Fair. [9]

Thrill Parks

From roller coasters to bumper cars and Ferris wheels, amusement park rides have been a staple at the Iowa State Fair. In 2017, the Iowa State Fair unveils Thrill Parks: Thrill Ville, Thrill Town and Thrill Zone! The super spectacular ride areas on the Fairgrounds have received facelifts, but the most exciting part is they now offer wristbands in lieu of tickets! Fairgoers can easily access rides and games simply by scanning a wristband.

Thrill Ville: Buckle your seat belt for the newest, fastest, and most thrilling amusement rides. Thrill Ville offers a clean and family friendly atmosphere, but focuses on the spectacular, jaw dropping, and super-speed screams of the best of today’s rides. Thrill Ville is located between the Grandstand and Ye Old Mill.

Thrill Town: Little Fairgoers and their families will find loads of fun and stroller parking with the addition of Thrill Town. Thrill Town features kid friendly rides in a fun, clean and convenient location without having to navigate the larger Thrill Park areas. Thrill Town is located east of Gate 10 and directly north of the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center Lawn.

Thrill Zone: Fairgoers seeking breathtaking, heart-stopping, hair-raising adventure will find it in the Thrill Zone. These unforgettable attractions will have you talking about the Iowa State Fair for months to come. Thrill Zone is located on the southwest corner of the Fairgrounds.

The Butter Cow

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 was succeeded in 2006 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
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
2016 50th Anniversary of Star Trek - Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Uhura
2017 150th Birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder


The Iowa State Fair Grandstand hosts events every Fair day. 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, Janet Jackson, 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 appeared 13 times starting in the 1960s, and has 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 in the 2015 Fair included 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. Meghan Trainor with guests Charlie Puth and Life of Dillon were to perform, but the performance was cancelled for health reasons. Charlie Puth performed for free instead. [10]

In 2016 the Iowa State Fair hosted Newsboys with special guest Fancesca Battistelli, Meghan Trainor with guests Hailee Steinfeld and Common Kings, Brett Eldredge with special guest Chris Janson, Jason Derulo with special guest Daya, Dierks Bentley with special guest Tucker Beathard, Heart, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Cheap Trick, Jeff Dunham, KISS with The Dead Daisies, Steven Tyler and The Loving Mary Band, and Lady Antebellum with special guest Kelsea Ballerini.

In 2017 the Iowa State Fair will host for KING & COUNTRY with special guest Matt Maher, Nickelback with special guests Shaman's Harvest and Pop Evil, the I Love the 90'S tour Featuring: Vanilla Ice, Salt N Pepa, Color Me Badd, Tone Loc, Coolio, Young MC, Pentatonix, Paramore with special guest X-Ambassadors, Flo Rida with special guest Kat Dahlia, Alabama with special guest The Charlie Daniels Band, Little Big Town with special guest Seth Ennis, John Mellencamp with special guest Carlene Carter and Kid Rock with special guest Uncle Kracker. [11]

Iowa State Fair Parade

The 2017 Parade will be at 6:15 p.m., August 9, 2017. The parade route will start at the State Capital Complex and continues on East Grand turning at East 7th Street to East Locust through the East Village to 2nd Avenue and back to Grand. The parade ends on 13th Street downtown. The parade will be live on IPTV starting at 7:30 p.m.

Future dates

  • 2018: August 9–19 [12]
  • 2019: August 8–18
  • 2020: August 13–23
  • 2021: August 12–22
  • 2022: August 10–20


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