Monday, May 27, 2013

Iowa State Fair

The internationally-acclaimed Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. Annually attracting more than a million people from all over the world, the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines is Iowa’s great celebration, a salute to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement. It is the true heartbeat of the Midwest, unequaled and unduplicated.

The Iowa State Fair, the inspiration for the original novel “State Fair” by Iowan Phil Stong, three motion pictures and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical, is without a doubt the country’s most famous state fair. National media frequently rank the Fair as one of the top events in the country. In 2004, USA Weekend named the event the #2 choice for summer fun in America, topping New York City’s Times Square, Cedar Point Amusement Park Resort in Ohio and Disneyland in California.

Midwest Living magazine named the Fair one of the “Top 30 Things Every Midwesterner Should Experience.” The Fair is also included in the New York Times best-selling travel book “1000 Places to See Before You Die” and the subsequent travel book, “1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before you Die.”

Iowa’s fair is also known as “America’s classic state fair” because the event features all of the traditional activities associated with state fairs in a park-like 400-acre setting (the Fair’s home since 1886). The grounds and the adjoining 160 acres of Campgrounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings pre-date World War I; many are priceless examples of American exposition-style architecture.

Throughout its history, the Fair has been a unique institution, serving to educate, inform and entertain people from all walks of life. It is an outstanding agricultural showplace, boasting one of the world’s largest livestock shows. Also home to the largest arts show in the state, the Fair showcases visual and performing arts with a variety of special exhibits and activities.

Each year hundreds of manufacturers and industrial representatives clamor to rent coveted exhibit space. In addition to its tremendous growth in agriculture and industry, the Fair is also an entertainment mecca for Iowa and the Midwest.

Several ground stages feature more than $400,000 worth of spectacular entertainment free with gate admission. Internationally-acclaimed performers and dynamic track events thrill thousands of fans in the Grandstand (Iowa’s original outdoor concert venue). More than 600 exhibitors and concessionaires feature quality merchandise and tasty foods – more than 30 of them served “on-a-stick.” Hundreds of displays, exhibitions, demonstrations, unique attractions and all kinds of competition – for fun, for ribbons and for the pride of being chosen best – make Iowa’s Fair one of the biggest and best.

In 1881, historian James Wilson noted that, “One of the most valuable effects of the State Fair is the fraternizing, humanizing consequences of bringing our people together...No one meets and mingles with 20,000 Iowa men, women and children on the Fairgrounds - the only place they can be brought together - without growth of sympathy.” Certainly this is even more relevant today, when the pace of modern life tends to isolate individuals even more from their neighbors.

Its Beginnings
The first Iowa State Fair was held in Fairfield, in southeast Iowa, October 25 to 27, 1854. This was 20 years before America's great westward movement began, when a streaming tide of countless thousands of people migrated from the east in white-topped prairie schooners to settle in what had been called "The Great American Desert."

The outgrowth of one of Iowa's early county fairs, the first Iowa State Fair was managed by the fledgling Iowa State Agricultural Society. The first president was Judge Thomas W. Clagett of Keokuk. Dr. J.M. Shaffer of Fairfield served for many years as secretary and leading spirit of the Fair.

The six-acre Fairgrounds tract, surrounded by a high rail fence, boasted temporary sheds and pens for livestock, a tent for exhibits and a circular 1,500-ft. track. The grounds, according to the State Historical Society's Palimpsest Magazine of July 1954, were policed by a "chief marshal, five assistant marshals and a number of policemen" who were made conspicuous by wearing a "blue sash around the body."

Fairgoing families traveled by covered wagon, camping on the road and at the Fair. Hardy frontiersmen with long pistols in their belts for protection and ornament rode in from outlying regions, as the Palimpsest describes.

Commenting on the three-day event, the Fairfield Ledger of November 2, 1854, read, "The attendance was large. For several days before the Fair, strangers commenced pouring into Fairfield by scores... Such a concourse of people never before assembled in Iowa. We think we are safe in estimating the number at 7 or 8,000."

Secretary Shaffer displayed a collection of "more than 100 varieties of snakes, lizards, etc., preserved in alcohol." A Mr. Moore of Fort Des Moines exhibited a "fine collection of birds, all the varieties of which are found in the state." The Ledger also noted, "As to corn, it is useless to talk of finding any better. One sample of oats was the best we ever saw." In the grain yield competition, Hezekiah Fagan of Polk County won first for the best five acres of Indian corn, with a production of 139.5 bushels, shelled, to the acre. The prize fall wheat yield was 26 bushels per acre, while H.G. and J. Stuart of Lee County raised 66 bushels of spring wheat on two acres.

The entertainment feature that seemed to have made the greatest impression upon spectators was the exhibition of horseback riding by women, or, to use the official designation, "female equestrianism." Ten performers, wearing various colored ribbons, competed for "a lady's superior gold hunting watch" offered by President Clagett. According to the Palimpsest, the contest was so exciting the first day that it had to be repeated the second. Miss Belle Turner of Keokuk, "the Lady of the Pink Ribbon, with elegant form, fine face and soft blue eyes," was judged the winner. Total expenditure for staging the first Fair: about $323.

Early Years
The second State Fair, in 1855, was also held at Fairfield on a 10-acre tract. From 1856 to 1878 the Fair was staged in the following cities: Muscatine, 1856-1857; Oskaloosa, 1858-1859; Iowa City, 1860-1861; Dubuque, 1862-1863; Burlington, 1864-1866; Clinton, 1867-1868; Keokuk, 1869-1870, 1874-1875; and Cedar Rapids, 1871-1873, 1876-1878.

The first plowing contest under the auspices of the State Agricultural Society took place in 1857. Each of the seven contestants plowed a one-fourth acre "land" in "old, loose and sandy" soil, turning a furrow at least six inches deep. According to the Palimpsest, the shortest time required was 48 minutes and the longest, 61 minutes. In the 1858 plowing match, the prize was actually awarded to the slowest plower on the principle that it is "vastly more important that the plowing be well done, than that it be speedily done."

The Civil War, at the beginning, had an unsettling effect upon the Fair but did not stop it. In 1861, the Johnson County Fairgrounds at Iowa City served as the site of Camp Fremont, occupied by a volunteer company up until three days before the State Fair. The directors resolved to carry on as best they could. The attendance was small and drastic curtailment of expenditures was necessary. In 1862 Iowa, Indiana and Ohio held the only state fairs in what was then called the Northwest part of the country. The Iowa exhibition was held in Dubuque and, despite war hardships, was greatly successful.

At the 1863 Fair special arrangements gave campers "a good, healthy location" near the river and a "trusty guard" was paid to "look after it and preserve order" both day and night. "Do not be afraid to bring your wives and daughters," urged the Secretary. "Parties having ladies in company will receive special consideration from the superintendent of the camp." At the 1872 Fair in Cedar Rapids, a "ladies saloon" was listed as one of the conveniences.

Permanent Home
In the fall of 1855, following the second Fair, President Clagett declared, "The prosperity of the Society will be greatly promoted by the permanent location of the place of holding the exhibition . . . the Society must be permanently located in some central position and permanent arrangements made for its accommodation."

In the years to come the same idea was voiced on many occasions and by supporters courageous enough to put the future of the Fair above other considerations. Finally, in 1879, the Fair moved to Des Moines and remained there, although it took six years to persuade the Legislature to appropriate the money to buy a site. In the meantime, according to historian George Mills, the Fair took place on the west side of Des Moines. Now a residential site, it was then a city park named "Brown's Park," located between 38th Street on the east, 42nd Street on the west, Center Street on the north and Grand Avenue on the south.

The Legislature appropriated $50,000 for the purchase of a location in 1884, on condition that the city of Des Moines raise an equal sum for site improvements. The new grounds on the east side of Des Moines, stretching between University and Dean Avenues from East 30th to East 36th streets, were dedicated on September 7, 1886, with addresses by Gov. Larrabee and other notables. A historian of the times wrote, "There is doubtless no more beautiful site for the Fair in the U.S. Situated about two miles east of the state capitol, it rises from the plain in a beautiful and sightly eminence from which the country for miles to the west, northwest and southwest stretches out before the view." Iowa was the second state in the Northwest to acquire a permanent home for its Fair. Several waited until the next decade.

In the 1880s the lengthening of the Fair beyond a week necessitated a special Sunday program. A sermon by a pulpit celebrity with a special musical program was the solution.

The Fair was hit hard by a cycle of falling prices that culminated in the Panic of 1893. A combination of poor crops, bad weather and hard times ruined the Fair in 1894 and only specific guarantees from the city of Des Moines made it possible to open the gates the following fall.

The Legislature appropriated $50,000 for the purchase of a location in 1884, on condition that the city of Des Moines raise an equal sum for site improvements. The new grounds on the east side of Des Moines, stretching between University and Dean Avenues from East 30th to East 36th streets, were dedicated on September 7, 1886, with addresses by Gov. Larrabee and other notables. A historian of the times wrote, "There is doubtless no more beautiful site for the Fair in the U.S. Situated about two miles east of the state capitol, it rises from the plain in a beautiful and sightly eminence from which the country for miles to the west, northwest and southwest stretches out before the view." Iowa was the second state in the Northwest to acquire a permanent home for its Fair. Several waited until the next decade.

In the 1880s the lengthening of the Fair beyond a week necessitated a special Sunday program. A sermon by a pulpit celebrity with a special musical program was the solution.

The Fair was hit hard by a cycle of falling prices that culminated in the Panic of 1893. A combination of poor crops, bad weather and hard times ruined the Fair in 1894 and only specific guarantees from the city of Des Moines made it possible to open the gates the following fall.

Fair Board Created
In 1900 management of the Fair by the State Agricultural Society was superseded by a Board of Agriculture. In 1923, the Iowa General Assembly created the Department of Agriculture as well as a separate State Fair Board to manage the State Fair.

Originally the Board consisted of the Governor, the Secretary of Agriculture, the president of Iowa State University, one elected director from each of six Congressional Districts, three at-large directors, plus a secretary/manager and treasurer elected by the Board.

By statute, the Fair Board serves as custodian of the Fairgrounds and is charged with the management of the annual Fair. The secretary-manager takes direct charge. The law provides that all operating expense, maintenance, etc., shall be paid out of the Fair's receipts unless there is a special appropriation made by the Legislature.

Special appropriations have been made since 1902 by the General Assembly for the construction of permanent buildings, purchase of additional land and grounds improvement. Tax money has never been used for salaries, amusements or operating expense. The title to the Fairgrounds and all property belongs to the state.

1919 - 1929
The "Victory Fair" in 1919 was the largest Fair up to that year and featured the theme, "Food Won the War." Because Des Moines hotels could not accommodate the greatly increased number of Fairgoers, 100 acres were turned into campgrounds. Today some 30,000 campers, in RVs, pick-ups or pitched tents, transform more than 160 acres of shady, rolling land into a small city during the Fair.

During this era the Baby Health contest became a staple feature and continued until about 1951. Hundreds of children were weighed, measured and closely examined before the "most perfect" winners were announced during each Fair.

In 1923 the draft horse pull, still an important annual event, was inaugurated. The 70th Anniversary Fair, held in 1924, included the first pedigreed dog show. The big attraction was the "Tokyo" fireworks display depicting the 1923 earthquake. As a result of the national recognition the Fair had been receiving, the Iowa State Fair and Exposition became the Iowa State Fair and National Livestock Show in 1925. The same year, a new contest was initiated for fiddlers; 105 entrants drew such crowds that the event was made an annual feature that continues today.

The Diamond Jubilee State Fair in 1929 was the biggest of all up to that time. All previous records in attendance, financial returns and exhibits were broken. Historical pageants traced the development of the Iowa State Fair, while displays featured the historical theme in agriculture and industry.

More than 15,000 children from all over the state contributed nickels and dimes to buy an elephant dubbed "Baby Mine," who was formally christened on opening day. The performing pachyderm was housed on the Fairgrounds for several years.

Great Depression
The period 1930-1935 was a time of retrenchment, as the Great Depression and destructive droughts reduced attendance and revenue. Despite sharp cutbacks in expenditures, the Fair recorded its first deficits since 1914.

In 1932 a third locomotive crash was staged in front of the Grandstand and scenes for the first "State Fair" motion picture, starring Will Rogers, were filmed. Gradual improvement in attendance put the Fair in the black, and the 1938 Territorial Centennial was another banner celebration.

James Hethershaw, 92 and a State Fair exhibitor for 52 consecutive years, is shown here sampling one of his giant prize melons which he has entered in the competition for the more than $7,000 cash premiums offered for farm, orchard and garden products at the Iowa State Fair.

War Time
Lloyd B. Cunningham, a Howard County farmer and Fair Board director, was named secretary-manager to succeed Arthur R. Corey in 1941. The first Fair under Cunningham's direction was a patriotic dedication featuring defense exhibits and demonstrations by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The principal event of interest was the National Tall Corn Contest, won by a corn stalk 23 ft. 2.5 in. tall. New contests included an Iowa Quiz Derby for teams of schoolchildren and Iowa's first statewide Farmers Horseshoe Pitching Tournament. Horseshoe pitching remains a regular daily Fair activity today.

The Fair became a wartime casualty in 1942 when the Board turned its many fireproof buildings over to the Army Air Corps at a token rental to be used as a supply depot. Even plans for a limited 4-H Fair were canceled in the interest of gasoline and tire conservation. This was only the second time the Fair had been canceled; the previous omission occurred in 1898; factors in its cancellation were the World's Fair held in Omaha that year and the Spanish-American War.

After World War II ended, Iowa's 1946 Centennial celebration provided an ideal theme for the renewal of the Fair. Noteworthy among the exhibits was a display of the nation's aerial might, plus other weapons and armaments which helped gain victory for the American and Allied forces.

During the 1946-1950 period, the G.I. Farm Family Contest, designed to honor Iowa's outstanding veteran farm family, was introduced. A Farm Gadget Contest, encouraging inventions to make farm work easier, was also added. In 1950, the first Iowa State Fair Queen was selected.

Talent Search Debut
Increased interest in the Fair in 1951 led to its expansion to 10 days from eight. The 10-day experiment was an instant success; nearly 450,000 people participated that year.

The 1952 Swine Show was limited to Iowa exhibitors because of a widespread outbreak of animal disease; despite this handicap, the entry list was one of the largest in history. Attendance topped the half-million mark, as it did again in 1953 when night auto racing was introduced successfully.

Bill Riley's Iowa State Fair Talent Search debuted in 1959. This long-running talent show, featuring young Iowans age 2 to 21, is one of the enduring trademarks of the Iowa State Fair. In 1996, after 50 Fairs and 37 Fair Talent Shows, Riley retired. The Talent Show continues, now hosted by Bill Riley Jr. with the continued advice and guidance of "Mr. State Fair."

In December 1962, Kenneth Fulk, working with the newly-created Iowa Agricultural Marketing Division, was named secretary-manager to succeed Cunningham. Under Fulk's direction, the Grand Concourse was developed, blocking off Grand Avenue to traffic.

In 1964 the Clearfield Lions began providing shuttle buses to and from the Campgrounds and around the Fairgrounds. This special free service is still provided today.

The 1960s - Heritage Fairs
Beginning in 1965 the Iowa State Fair focused on Iowa's history, initiating a series of Heritage Fairs. As part of this series, a major addition to Heritage Village was made each year. The first of these Fairs was dedicated to Iowa's pre-19th century American Indian heritage. Two wick-i-ups, where Wood Indians lived, were constructed by George Youngbear and fellow Meskawki tribesmen. Later a wigwam, favored by the Plains Indians, was added.

During this period, a Native American totem pole became the first permanent addition to the grassy-park-like area now known as "Heritage Village." The totem pole, carved from a tree that was growing when Columbus discovered America, weighed about seven tons. The Thunderbird atop had a 20-ft. wingspan; its horns reached 60 feet above the walkway below. (The Totem Pole was removed in 2005.)

The addition of big-name Grandstand entertainment also marked the Heritage Fairs. In 1965 Iowa's own Andy Williams returned home to sing for appreciative crowds on five nights.

The "Explorer Heritage: 1800 to 1830" was celebrated in 1966. As a lasting reminder of the early explorers who discovered Iowa, "the beautiful land," a replica of one of the Fort Madison blockhouses, including a section of stockade, was constructed of oak from the Tama area and added to Heritage Village. Grandstand entertainment included Lawrence Welk, immensely popular at the time.

In 1967 the Fair honored the state's "Pioneer Heritage: 1830 to 1865." An exact replica of the first Iowa church ever built - in Dubuque in 1834 - was constructed from native Iowa oak.

The 1968 "Gay Nineties" Fair celebrated the years 1865 to 1900. As a permanent tribute to the one-room country schools that made Iowa a national leader in educating its children, North Lincoln Country School, then located southeast of Indianola, was donated to the Fair. Placed in Heritage Village, the school is furnished just as it was in the late 1800s, with a wood-burning stove, desks fastened to the floor, recitation bench and teacher's chair. Fair visitors attended classes and enjoyed special presentations geared to young folks.

Entertaining in the Grandstand in 1968 were country-western singer Eddie Arnold, John Davidson, George Kirby and the internationally famous pianist Liberace.

The "Roaring 20s: 1900 to 1930" were celebrated in 1969. The Fair relived the flapper era with Dixieland jazz bands and other appropriate exhibitions. Pioneer Hall's Iowa Museum of Agriculture was opened to the public, displaying a half-acre of Iowa artifacts.

The 1970s - Discovery Fairs
The theme for the 1970 Iowa State Fair, "Discover Iowa," challenged all Iowans to discover what their great state had to offer in the way of business, industry, agriculture and entertainment. Lawrence Welk made a return Grandstand appearance, along with Engelbert Humperdinck, Red Skelton and Johnny Cash. It was a year of records: Record prices were paid for the 4-H market lamb and steer, and total attendance set a record when more than 665,000 people passed through the outside gates.

"Discover Mexico," the theme for 1971, added a new dimension to the Fair, emphasizing the culture and customs of other lands and publicizing the great potential market in Mexico for Iowa's meat, milk, eggs and soybeans. Glen Campbell, The Carpenters, Charley Pride and The Jackson Five attracted huge crowds to the Grandstand.

The 1972 "Discover Canada" Fair, another in a series leading to the 1976 bicentennial celebration, featured Sonny and Cher, who still hold the record attendance for a Grandstand appearance: 26,200.

The 1973 "Discover Hawaii" Fair grossed $1,602,267 and was the most profitable in history, netting $286,605. Elton John pushed the one-show gross to more than $103,000; The Osmond Brothers, Tammy Wynette, and Seals and Croft set a new gross income high for the Grandstand. Some 15 acres of land were purchased for additional parking; University Avenue frontage was expanded 800 feet.

Also completed in 1973 was restoration of the original barn that stood on the Fairgrounds when it was purchased in 1886. Christened "Grandfather's Farm" and stocked with baby animals, it was the perfect setting for antique farm machinery displays during the Fair. Less than a decade later, the barn would be forced to close due to safety concerns; the barn was completely restored and re-opened to the public in 1994.

In 1974 "The Discoverers" Fair honored Christopher Columbus, emphasizing the land of his birth (Italy), and the country for which he sailed (Spain). The Hawaiian Village became International Place and thematic exhibits from Spain and Italy were displayed under the Grandstand. Art, photography, crafts and hobbies all were moved to the former Women's and Children's Building, renamed the "Cultural Center." Gross income totaled $1,461,851 for the 10 days. A new Grandstand record was set when Chicago grossed $129,260 - more than any single show in the history of all fairs in the United States and Canada at that time. Other Grandstand crowd-pleasers included Charlie Rich, Redd Foxx and Academy Award-winner Liza Minnelli.

"The Colonizers" Fair in 1975 featured the British Isles and presented an exciting British Premiere Show, including contemporary English singers and artists, authentic folk dancers and a town crier. In the Grandstand, Mac Davis, The Beach Boys, Helen Reddy and a variety of country stars, along with Olivia Newton-John, The Osmonds and Chicago, thrilled enthusiastic crowds.

The rainbow-colored Sky Glider, offering Fairgoers a breathtaking aerial view of the grounds as well as transportation between the Grand Concourse and Pioneer Hall, became a permanent attraction in 1975.

1976 - 1979
In 1976 attention was focused on the "Spirit of Iowa." The Fair ran 12 days in honor of the country's bicentennial. The area under the Grandstand was transformed into the "Spirit of Iowa" Theme Center, a proud and impressive showcase for the ethnic groups who settled in Iowa. Lawrence Welk, The Eagles, Frankie Valli, Johnny Cash and others attracted thousands to the Grandstand.

The first 11-day Fair was the 1977 "New Horizons" Fair. Under the first-year direction of J.D. Taylor, it turned a profit of $179,000. Taylor was appointed secretary-manager succeeding Kenneth Fulk, who resigned to run for Congress. Rock stars - notably The Beach Boys, The Bay City Rollers and Kansas - were enormously profitable in the Grandstand, as were the increasingly popular tractor pulls.

Iowans were encouraged to "Take a Closer Look" at the 1978 Iowa State Fair, focusing on the tremendous entertainment value. Close to 600,000 Fairgoers discovered that once they paid gate admission there were hundreds of things to do and see without spending another penny. Free attractions included the Toby Show, the spectacular Dancing Waters, the Mitchell Marionettes, the Kool-Aid Circus and more.

An economic impact survey, compiled by the Iowa Development Commission, indicated that a whopping $27 million worth of spending was generated in the community by the 1978 Fair.

Although six days of rain marred its run, the 1979 Fair still attracted 620,000 people who wanted to "Get in Touch with Iowa." Internationally-acclaimed sculptor Al Kidwell was artist-in-residence at the Cultural Center.

1980 - 1989
Two-for-one admission after 6 p.m. was an important factor in reaching a total estimated attendance of 632,000 for the 1980 "Celebrate, Iowa" State Fair. A sensational line-up of free entertainment heightened the Fair's family-oriented entertainment value. Discounted Midway rides and free fireworks were additional incentives.

New record prices were paid at the 4-H/FFA Sale of Champions. Nearly 40,000 turned out to see Kenny Rogers, along with Dottie West, in four performances. Six '50s/'60s stars headlined the first annual Rock 'n' Roll Reunion.

Nearly 663,000 people - the largest total in the previous five years - found "So Much More To Go For" at the 1981 Fair. Admission revenue during the Fair was the largest in its history. An unofficial attendance survey listed visitors from 36 states and seven foreign countries. One reason for the upswing in attendance was the change in dates: The Fair ran one week earlier than usual, enabling many more school children and their parents to participate. Grandstand performers, including Barbara Mandrell, Pat Benatar, and Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee, netted $104,000. A variety of money-saving promotions emphasized the Fair's extraordinary value.

Advance discount gate tickets plus two-for-one admissions after 5 p.m. pushed attendance at the 1982 Iowa State Fair up to a final total of 668,000. Paid admissions totaled 498,592, the highest since 1976. The cash balance increased $206,000 for the year. Nearly 11,000 cars jammed the Fairgrounds on August 20, when attendance set a weekday record. Two Oak Ridge Boys shows attracted some 23,000 people to the Grandstand.

New attractions in 1982 included the State Fair Museum, a collection of artifacts and memorabilia from the Fair's first 128 years. Fairview Stage, west of the Cultural Center, was inaugurated with a series of music feature days. Textile and food exhibits were divided and the Foods Department moved into newly-refurbished quarters in the Family Center. State Fair souvenirs, including shirts, hats, caps and more, were offered for the first time.

A sizzling August heat wave in 1983 (108 degrees one day; 100 degrees or above the next four) singed attendance about nine percent; however, the 1983 Fair beat the heat and finished on top with an estimated 611,000 visitors during the 11-day run.

The Fair ran Wednesday through Saturday instead of the previous Thursday to Sunday schedule. The change was intended to strengthen the Fair's last day; exhibitors were encouraged to stay all day Saturday, with Sunday left to tear down and move out.

A major attraction was a $100,000 earth-sheltered home constructed by the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines on Exposition Hill. The State Fair Singers, a brand-new troupe of high-school-age singers and dancers from all over the state, entertained daily. A joint project of the Fair, Luther College and private sponsors, the group added a Jazz Band in 1989. Also in 1983, the Textiles and Clothing Department was completely remodeled.

The premiere edition of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook, a collection of prize-winning recipes, went on sale. Editions have since been published every other year, and all have sold out. Subsequent issues are planned.

More than 80 towering pine trees on the northwest corner of the grounds were removed to allow widening of University Avenue and the redesigning of the East 30th Street intersection. Access to the grounds was also improved by a new five-lane entrance at East 33rd and University Avenue.

Two new cattle competitions, a production-tested barrow contest, a new swine breed show, dairy production awards, plus the introduction of "Fun Forest" for children and a celebrity dairy goat milking competition gave 636,000 Fairgoers good reason to "Just See Us Now" at the 1984 State Fair. Duffy Lyon celebrated her 25th anniversary as the Fair's famous butter cow sculptor.

Significant capital improvements were made to the Campgrounds, Cattle Barn, Livestock Pavilion and public restrooms in the Varied Industries Building. The Fair Board voted to cover the outdoor arena west of the Horse Barn. The 1984 Fair marked the sixth straight year the Fair turned a profit.

Adopting a German theme in 1985 and reverting to the traditional Thursday through Sunday schedule, the Fair's "Augustfest!" provided German beer and food, music and entertainment, colorful banners, flags and many old-world cultural exhibits. Big-name performers, free harness racing, and a combine demolition derby delighted thousands of Grandstand fans. Harness-racing, a long-standing staple of the Iowa State Fair, took a new turn in 1985 when pari-mutuel racing made its statewide debut at the Fairgrounds. Short racing seasons continued for the next three years.

A record-breaking 668,000 people attended the Fair - the largest 11-day total in the Fair's 131-year history - and generated an economic impact conservatively estimated at $56 million by the Fair Board.

Two more significant events occurred the following year: In 1986 the Iowa State Fair celebrated the 100th birthday of the Fairgrounds and a new secretary-manager took charge. Former Missouri State Fair director Marion Lucas replaced Jim Taylor, who resigned to become chief of the American Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City.

An exceptional Grandstand line-up, free entertainment by famous Iowans, plus traditional competition encouraged native sons and daughters to "Come Home to the Iowa State Fair." And they did. Thanks in part to near-perfect weather, attendance reached a whopping 732,000 for the 11-day event.

On the heels of a prosperous year, $284,000 in premiums was offered in 1987 - an increase of approximately 10 percent. WHO Radio built its own Crystal Studios on the Grand Concourse; exhibits and concessions filled the new 8,400-sq. ft. Walnut Center; children 11 and under were admitted free to the grounds. The entire 400-acre Fairgrounds district was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

"Celebrate an American Classic" summed up the pride and admiration Iowans felt about their Fair. Coca-Cola donated a new electronic marquee at East 30th Street and University Avenue.

Despite seven inches of rain and the chilliest weather in 10 years, 716,000 visitors flocked to the 1987 Fair. A record 72 county fair candidates competed in the State Fair Queen Pageant, and a debate between seven Democratic Presidential hopefuls drew 150 national media reps and an SRO audience.

Nostalgia, tradition and down-home fun inspired 1988's theme, "For An Old Fashioned Good Time." New events complemented more traditional activities: The Fair staged its first llama competition and Shire horse show; a Giant Ram was added to the Big Boar and Super Bull contests; a replica of the Vietnam Memorial was featured on Expo Hill; and a 14-ft. tall sand castle towered in the Cultural Center.

A record total of almost 787,000 visitors was tallied. Following the Fair, the Board approved a three-phase, 10-year, $30 million fund-raising plan for renovating the Fairgrounds. The first phase - private donations - was launched at the 1988 Fair.

Fairgoers enjoyed an extra day of fun to make 12 in all in 1989, celebrating another "Old Fashioned Good Time." Country stars lit up the Grandstand stage; auto racing, truck and tractor pulling and a free pro rodeo rocked the bleachers. Ice carving was featured in the Agriculture Building; the Fair's Rock 'n' Roll Reunion celebrated its 10th anniversary. "TV8 and Pepsi On Ice" provided daily ice-skating performances; 1,000 homing pigeons were released in the Great Pigeon Escape; and General Foods' colossal 40-horse hitch generated excitement with pure Belgian horsepower. All in all, more than 857,000 people visited the Fair in 1989.

1990 - 1999
The 1990 State Fair also gave Iowans 12 days to celebrate "Iowa's Blue Ribbon Fun Fest." The Iowa Tourism Building, a permanent exhibition hall featuring Iowa attractions and events, was constructed near the Walnut Street entrance and attracted more than 100,000 visitors in its debut year.

For the first time, Grandstand tickets became available statewide through Ticketmaster. Three Grandstand performances sold out; in the final tally, total attendance overall soared to nearly 874,000.

"Iowa's Blue Ribbon Fun Fest" returned for another 12-day affair in 1991. To raise funds for critical Fairgrounds repairs, adult gate admission was raised from $4 to $5. An Enormous Equine joined the jumbo livestock judging contests. The Fabric and Threads Department hosted the first Grand National Afghan Show. The '91 Fun Fest attracted 889,000 visitors - another record; substantial gains were recorded in revenue and entries.

In 1992, the Fair reverted to its previous 11-day schedule with plans to gradually move the dates up one week. The Blue Ribbon Foundation, the Fairgrounds' fund-raising arm, was established in 1993 with the goal of raising millions of dollars for renovation of seriously deteriorated Fair buildings and facilities.

"The Only Fun of Its Kind" was born - a theme that captured the essence of Iowa's Fair. The Cultural Center displayed a 24-ft. replica of the U.S. Capitol constructed out of 250,462 tiny LEGO blocks. When all was said and done, more than 891,000 people had passed through the gates in 11 days - yet another record-breaker.

The 135th annual Iowa State Fair in 1993 followed on the heels of a catastrophically wet year throughout the Midwest. Record flooding pounded the area, rendering the city of Des Moines without water for 12 days. Yet, despite heavy rain and overflowing storm sewers during the Fair's final weekend, the sixth consecutive attendance record was set with more than 893,000.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation was in full swing toward raising the money needed to refurbish the Fairgrounds. A short-term goal of $6 million by the end of 1994 was established and many major corporations made significant pledges. In an effort to contribute to renovation funds, the Fair Board initiated an all-pay adult gate admission policy.

Fabulous new free attractions and contests in '93 included: Hawthorn's performing White Tigers, the Zoppe Family Mini-Circus, a 1920s-style All-Iowa Store and daily barn tours. A sensational Grandstand schedule boasted mega-stars Garth Brooks (a sell-out in 19 minutes), Clint Black and Wynonna Judd, George Strait, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Barry Manilow and Michael Bolton.

In 1994, Mother Nature was much more cooperative. The Blue Ribbon Foundation's efforts were beginning to pay off in visible facility improvements, including rebuilding of Grandfather's Farm, external repairs to the Administration Building and rehabilitation of the Agriculture Building.

The talk of the town - and country - was Duffy Lyon's 400-pound, life-size butter sculpture of Garth Brooks. Tom and Roseanne Arnold's Loose Meat Sandwich competition ranked a close second. Martin Mull and national cable channel "Comedy Central" filmed a farce on the State Fairgrounds. State-of-the-art Sunliner Tram Shuttles provided convenient transportation from north parking lots.

Grandstand sell-outs included Reba McEntire and George Strait, while Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn and Christian music sensation Carman attracted more than 10,000 fans each.

Beautiful weather and earlier Fair dates (Aug. 11-21) contributed to the Fair's smashing success. Previous attendance records were shattered for the seventh consecutive year when a total of more than 913,000 visited during its 11-day run. Revenue increased approximately $550,000 over the year before.

Despite record levels of humidity and suffocating heat 789,911 visitors attended "The Fun and Only" Fair in 1995. Reflecting the extreme weather, visitor spending also decreased. For the first time in Fair history, two Grandstand shows were canceled (due to performer-related illness) and an auto race was rained out. Daredevil motorcyclist Robbie Knievel turned the last day of the Fair into one of the best attended ever with his death-defying 180-ft. jump over 20 vehicles.

Bouncing back in 1996, the Fair scored its highest attendance ever - a whopping 918,000. A spunky new theme, "Let Yourself Go," encouraged Fairgoers to kick up their heels at Iowa's favorite summertime event. Celebrating Iowa's Sesquicentennial (150th birthday), Duffy Lyon amazed visitors with her butter sculpture of Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Some $4 million worth of Fairgrounds improvements were made to the Grandstand, Ye Old Mill (an original "tunnel of love" amusement ride built in 1921) and the Riley Stage, plus the picturesque Pella Plaza was added, providing hundreds of thousands of Fairgoers with a wonderful new appreciation for the Fair.

Whether it was the great weather, stellar Grandstand line-up (headlining the Wallflowers and ZZ Top) or 400-lb. butter Elvis that enticed Iowans to "Go for It" at the 1997 Iowa State Fair, the result was the same: A record-breaking 946,239 visitors turned out for the 11-day event.

Also attracting Fairgoers were numerous physical improvements including continuing renovation of the Grandstand, a major overhaul of the Administration Building, and the addition of historical murals in Ye Old Mill. Outstanding free entertainment, including Starship with Mickey Thomas, country singer Mila Mason and a mini-circus, attracted huge crowds. Thrill standouts like the Skycoaster, which strapped one to three riders in a harness attached to a bungee cord, transported them to the top of a 100-ft. tower, then flung the brave souls skyward at 55 mph, also drew long lines and headlines.

A storm with winds topping 100-miles-per-hour hit the Fairgrounds in June 1998. A massive clean-up in July prepared the grounds in time for the Fair. Chainsaw-carver Brian Ruth transformed four storm-damaged tree trunks into permanent sculptures on the grounds.

Scorching heat and humidity didn't stop more than 941,300 Fairgoers from having "Way Too Much Fun." Temperatures hovered between 87 and 92 degrees with high humidity the second week of the Fair and head indices ranged from 96 to 106 degrees. Despite the weather, many commerical exhibitors and concessionaires reported strong sales. Stand-out Grandstand shows included LeAnn Rimes and Bryan White (a sell-out) and Alan Jackson with Deana Carter. Two free performances by rising country singers the Dixie Chicks sparked crowds estimated at 6-8,000.

Responding to the "Knock Yourself Out" theme, a record-breaking 969,523 visitors attended the 1999 Fair. Nearly perfect weather (daily high temperature averaged 71 degrees), strong-selling Grandstand shows (including two sell-outs: Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray with Fastball, plus Tim McGraw with Chely Wright) as well as Duffy Lyon's 40th anniversary butter sculpture of "The Last Supper" all attracted Fairgoers.

National and international media coverage was spurred by visiting presidential candidates plus Lyon's acclaimed "Last Supper" sculpture. Martha Stewart spent a day at the Fair, while her production company spent four days taping a 60-minute show which aired nationally. High wire aerialist Tino Wallenda thrilled large crowds Aug. 22 when he walked 1020 feet along the Skyglider cable 50 feet above the ground without a net.

2000 - Present
The theme of the 2000 Fair, "Zero In August 10-20, 2000," focused on technology and tradition. Fairgoers responded in record numbers - 978,841 visitors attended.

A $1.3 million Grandstand event gross, a $400,000 line-up of entertainment offered free with gate admission and the innovative focus on high-tech development figured significantly in the Fair's success. Two Grandstand shows were sell-outs, including Christina Aguilera plus 70s rock duo Styx and REO Speedwagon. Truck and Tractor Pulling drew nearly 6000 fans. More than 9400 people took in two nights of PRCA Rodeo, including a Thursday night performance by Sawyer Brown, filling in for the ailing Chris LeDoux.

The 2001 Fair lived up to its theme - "It's a Winner" - with wonderful weather, a renovated Varied Industries Building, Bob Dylan in the Grandstand plus live sharks and comedy cowboys. A record-breaking turnout of 985,780 visitors to the 2001 Iowa State Fair.

Phase One of the Varied Industries Building renovation and the repaving of the Grand Concourse helped draw in crowds. Legendary performer Bob Dylan was a Grandstand sell-out. The Live Shark Encounter featured six live sharks in a 9000-gallon tank with a diver swimming free. A hilarious comedy wild west show continually played to standing-room-only audiences. Other attractions included a record number of State Fair Queen candidates (96), a record number of six-horse draft hitches (19), an $883,000 Grandstand gross, a record $145,100 Sale of 4-H/FFA Champions, a new Fiesta night reaching out to Latino Fairgoers, Duffy Lyon's butter sculpture of John Wayne, plus the Farmall Promenade Square Dancing Tractors.

A quickly extinguished fire, gutting longtime Fair eating establishment Master Jack's, failed to dampen the crowds. Gary Slater took over as Fair manager after Marion Lucas retired.

Great weather, the largest final day turnout in Fair history, a $1.6 million Grandstand gross, a visit from President Bush, plus live alligators and the 135-ft. tall Adrenaline Drop all helped the 2002 Fair live up to its billing as "The Big One". (The theme was the first in a three-year campaign toward the Fair's Sesquicentennial in 2004.) Final attendance tallied 1,008,174 - marking the first time attendance topped the million mark.

More than 90,000 visitors - the largest number ever - were tallied on Extreme Sunday, the Fair's eleventh and final day, after the Fair geared up to bring more people out for its finale. A separate marketing campaign promoted several attractions including a free concert by the Village People, four thrilling sessions of freestyle motorcycle stunts, half price admission, free parking for carloads of five or more, expanded exhibit hours, and several other appealing incentives.

Additional factors in the Fair's success included a $1.6 million Grandstand gross (including a sellout for Kenny Chesney and 8000-plus seats each sold for Toby Keith, REO Speedwagon and Styx, plus Alicia Keys). Huge free stage attractions included Juice Newton, The Association, and Hotel California's Salute to the Eagles. Fairgoers lined up to see Duffy Lyon's butter tribute to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Kachunga and the Alligator attracted record-breaking crowds during three daily shows. Two thrill rides on Expo Hill, the free-falling Adrenaline Drop and the 60-mph Skyscraper, grossed $161,000. The Fair's new mascot, a giant blue ribbon named Fairfield, made his debut.

Attendance again topped one million in 2003. More than 1,012,000 Fairgoers experience the "One in a Million" Fair. Visiting Democratic presidential candidates attracted crowds of Fairgoers as well as national media including MSNBC, the Washington Post, ABC News, Tokyo's largest newspaper and many other news organizations. Nearly 84,000 visitors - one of the largest counts ever - were tallied on Extreme Sunday.

The Sale of Champions set a new record of $157,500 with eight livestock selling prices hitting new highs. A $1.6 million Grandstand gross, including a sellout for Kenny Chesney, also factored in to the Fair's success. In addition, 9000-plus seats were sold for Alan Jackson and more than 8000 for the Grand Outlaw National Tractor and Truck Pull. Huge free stage draws ranged from Vocal Trash and Riders in the Sky to Rhonda Vincent and Hairball.

Fairgoers lined up to see Duffy Lyon's butter Harley Davidson motorcycle, a salute to the company's 100th anniversary. CBS News' Early Show covered the sculpture's debut on opening day. Dutch Television filmed a half-hour show about the Fair. Maximum Velocity, a bikes, boards and blades stunt show, plus the Rosaire-Zoppe Chimpanzees, and Mr. Stinky Feet (Jim Cosgrove) attracted standing-room only audiences every day.

In the fall of 2003, a new book for travelers titled 1000 Places to See Before You Die, described as "an around-the-world, continent-by-continent listing of places guaranteed to give you the shivers," featured the Iowa State Fair as the only Iowa destination and the only state fair in the country as one of the world's must-see events. The national accolades kept coming. In May 2004, USA Weekend magazine named the Fair the #2 choice for summer fun in America (second only to Las Vegas). In June, Esquire magazine chose the Fair as one of the "15 Superlative Things to Experience Before Labor Day."

The 2004 Fair - celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Fair in 1854 - was the culmination of three years of planning. Special events including a horse caravan from Fairfield (a trek completed in 1954 as well), a reunion of former Fair Queens and Talent Search champions, plus a torch run from all four corners of the state helped drive a record 1,053,978 visitors to the 2004 Fair, the largest tally to date.

Perfect weather averaging a daily high of 76 degrees helped most food vendors and merchandise concessionaires set sales records. Steer 'N' Stein owner Stan Kranovich said business was tremendous. "I think folks would have eaten boxes if we had deep-fried 'em," he laughed. According to Calvin Campbell of Campbell Concessions, "It was our best year in over 50 years selling corn dogs." Meatballs joined the long list of food items available on a stick.

National media visiting included Bill Geist and a crew from CBS News Sunday Morning, USA Today, the Dallas Morning News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Country Living Magazine. Monster Nation, which produces television shows for the Discovery Channel, also spent four days on site. ESPN ranked the Fair's debut Outhouse Race among its Top 10 Plays of the Day.

Additional superlatives included 103 State Fair Queen candidates, a new record; one of the top five draft horse shows in the nation; and 10.2 million hits on over the 11-day run. The Sale of Champions set a new record of $190,500 with 11 record selling prices. Plus, the Super Bull broke the 1995 record, weighing in at 3,378 lbs. The Fair's 12th cookbook, "Taste the Tradition," sold 80 percent of its 5000-copy print run, the fastest selling Fair cookbook ever.

The 2005 Fair proved it is "America's Favorite Fair" by surpassing the one million mark for the fourth consecutive year with a total attendance of more than 1,005,000.

The 2005 Grandstand line-up featured events ranging from Professional Bull Riding to Garrison Keillor, including two sold-out shows, Keith Urban with Phil Vassar and Brad Paisley/Sara Evans. Grandstand ticket sales grossed $1.68 million with 71,916 purchases. Po' boy sandwiches, french fried sweet potatoes, deep fried hot dogs, and the country's only Red Bull smoothies debuted.

Free entertainment and attractions were wildly popular during the 2005 Fair. There were daily standing room only crowds at Vocal Trash, The Nadas, Flying Fools Dive Show, and Sea Lion Splash. Extreme Sunday's finale with America featured one of the largest crowds ever at the Riley Stage, estimated at nearly 7,000 attendees. In addition, thousands visited Duffy Lyon's butter tribute to Tiger Woods, the Fair's new museum, and the Habitat for Humanity house that was fully constructed on the Fairgrounds in nine days.

In addition to being named to Midwest Living's "30 Things Every Midwestern Should Experience," the 2005 Fair also set a few records: hits to nearly doubled to more than 19.1 million during the 11-day run, seven record selling prices were set in the Sale of Champions and more livestock were shown than ever. Open class livestock entries were up more than 8 percent while 4-H livestock increased nearly 10 percent over 2004. Plus, Spread the Word Advertising named the Fair to its Discover America Top 200 Events list for which more than 3000 national events were reviewed for inclusion.

From simple beginnings, the Iowa State Fair has become larger, longer and wider in scope. It has become a pacesetter in the industry. The Fair's evolution from a simple stock show to today's agricultural, industrial and entertainment extravaganza is a direct reflection of Iowa's evolution from an untilled prairie to the very center of the nation's food production. The Iowa State Fair has been the historical trademark of this progress. For more than 14 decades - more than a century in the same location - the Fair has instructed, influenced and guided an agricultural people in making agricultural history.

Over the years the Fair has never veered from its primary purpose: the celebration of excellence, the recognition of individual achievement and the enhancement of agriculture. Whether it's Grandma's pickles, Dad's farm gadget, the neighbor's Cookout Contest entry or sister's photography, the emphasis continues to be recognition of the particular talent or skill that makes each person unique. The Fair is the true, ever-changing reflection of what's best about Iowa and her people.

Iowa State Fair