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What is Iowa known for? Facts about the Hawkeye State

What is Iowa known for? Facts about the Hawkeye State

Are you wondering what Iowa is known for? While pigs, plains, and golden grains of corn come to mind, Iowa is known for much more than corn and pork.

Yes, there is corn – lots of it. And there’s epic pork production at Iowa’s farms (this is the Midwest, after all). There are also historic attractions, interesting activities, and fun facts about Iowa, as well as weird facts about Iowa.

From the south-central Iowa state capital of Des Moines to Mason City in the north, Iowa City in the east, and Sioux City in the northwest, the Midwestern state of Iowa sits between two navigable rivers…the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

It’s the only state with that distinction. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota border it. Let’s get to it!

5 Fast Facts About Iowa

Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States. Here are several fast facts about the state:

  1. Iowa is known as the “Food Capital of the World” due to its large agricultural industry, producing corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs.
  2. The state is home to the iconic Field of Dreams baseball field, the setting for the 1989 movie of the same name.
  3. Iowa is the birthplace of several famous individuals, including John Wayne, Herbert Hoover, and Ashton Kutcher.
  4. The state is also known for its impressive collection of covered bridges, with over 31 still standing.
  5. Iowa is home to the Iowa State Fair, which attracts over a million visitors yearly and is known for its unique food offerings, including deep-fried butter and bacon-wrapped riblets.

History and Statehood

Iowa State Flag

The rich history of Iowa includes French explorers, Native Americans, French Louisiana, and the Missouri Territory. One of those unique landmark facts is that it’s the only state with a border of two major rivers: Missouri and the Mississippi.

I bet you didn’t know Iowa was once Spanish property and part of Louisiana. In 1762, France secretly gave part of Louisiana to Spain (and since Iowa was part of that property, it went with it) to become Spanish Louisiana.

Iowa became the 29th state on December 28, 1846 (as part of the Louisiana Purchase). The state gets its name from the Ioway people, a Native American tribe.

State Nickname

You’re probably wondering, “Why is Iowa called the Hawkeye State?” Hint: This official nickname has nothing to do with Clint Barton or any other Avenger, for that matter.

This official nickname is in tribute to the Native American warrior Chief Black Hawk. However, we could picture Clint and the fam living way out on a farm in the Hawkeye State. Can’t you?

See Related: Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit

State Symbols

Eastern Goldfinch on a Tree Branch

The Iowa state bird and flower are the Eastern Goldfinch (also known as the wild canary and American goldfinch) and the prairie rose.

Prairie Rose

Other Iowa symbols include the geode as the state rock and the oak as the state tree. Outside of the bird, there is no state animal of Iowa (or state insect, for that matter).

State Motto

Adopted in 1847, Iowa’s motto is “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”

State Song

The state song is “The Song of Iowa.” It was written by S. H. M. Byers in 1867 and became the official state song in 1911.

See Related: Best Places to Vist in the Midwest

Food and Fairs

So, what food is Iowa known for? And where best can I try it all?

Famous Food

Corn Cob

Yes, our mind leans toward food every time we think of Iowa. The cuisine is at the top of our “want-to-know” list. Breaded pork tenderloin, Iowa sweet corn, and the hot beef sandwich (a massive pile of beef, gravy, and mashed potatoes on top of white bread) are just a few Iowa staples you’ll have to try.

Additionally, the delicious red apple, grown in the state, was originally named the Hawkeye. It was even promoted at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Sliced Bread Machine

Otto Frederick Rohwedder and the Electric Bread Slicer

Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the inventor of the sliced bread machine, is from Davenport, Iowa. He began in 1912 and produced the first fully working machine in 1928. The first bakery to commercially use the machine was in Chillicothe, Missouri.

But technically, it’s Iowa that takes the honor of being the best thing since sliced bread!

See Related: Best Wineries In Iowa For Tastings and Tours

Iowa State Fair

Crowd in Iowa State Fair
image by Phil Roederis licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Iowa State Fair, held in Des Moines in Polk County, first began in 1854. It’s the largest event in Iowa as well as one of the largest and oldest agricultural events.

The fair is held over 11 days in August, but events like car shows, flea markets, and livestock exhibitions take place at the venue all year round.

You can find all the farm animals, jams and jellies, prize-winning quilts, midway rides, and food-on-a-stick that you’d expect at such an event.

National Hobo Convention

National Hobo Convention Parade
image by Drifter Ken  is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Hobo Convention (yes, there’s a hobo convention, and we’re sure it’s everything you’re imagining) is held in Britt, Iowa.

Hobos from across the country come to town to celebrate their vagabond way of life. It’s held the second week of August and features parades, entertainment, activities, and arts and crafts.

See Related: Historical Landmarks in Iowa You’ll Want to Visit

Notable Names

John Wayne

Actor John Wayne was born in Winterset in 1907.

Arabella Mansfield

Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the U.S. in 1869. She passed the Iowa bar despite a law restricting it to only men. After her challenge in court, Iowa became the first state to accept women and minorities to its bar.

Buffalo Bill Cody

American buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, U.S. Army scout, and actor Buffalo Bill Cody was born in Le Claire, Iowa, in 1846. His larger-than-life personality set the scene for the Wild West through fiction, tall tales, and dramatic entertainment like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

It’s total fibber, though. The guy didn’t kill a single buffalo. North American bison, on the other hand…

Captain Kirk

Tomb of Captain Kirk
image by Marshall Astor is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Riverside, Iowa is the fictional “future” birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame (March 22, 2228). There’s even a marker to commemorate the spot. Iowans must be Trekkies.

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly Site
image by davidwilson1949 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Buddy Holly’s crash site is in Clear Lake, Iowa, north of Des Moines. The plane crashed in 1959 with Holly and fellow passengers Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson. In case you were wondering, the pilot, Roger Peterson, died.

See Related: Things to know about the Buddy Holly Crash Site

Presidents and Politics

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover Photo

President Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States was born in West Branch, Iowa in 1874. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is in Iowa City in eastern Iowa.

The Iowa Caucus

Iowa Caucus Gathering
image by John Edwards is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Iowa ranks right up there with the political candidates. The Iowa Caucus is one of the most important political caucuses in the election of a U.S. president. It’s the first state to show support for candidates (and every candidate, regardless of party, is camped out there if they want any chances of going forward).

For comparison purposes, a caucus is a series of local gatherings where voters openly meet, support, and select candidates. With a primary, supporters cast secret ballots in a state election.

The candidate’s support in the state shows how they’ll do in other states. The theory is that if a candidate can resonate with the average middle-American, he/she will do well with the rest of the country.

So, if you’re planning to run for President, get yourself to an Iowa town.

Attractions and Natural Landmarks

Pikes Peak State Park

Pikes Peak State Park Scenery
image by McGhiever is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Pikes Peak State Park (in McGregor, Iowa, not the Colorado version) features nearly 1,000 acres of hiking trails with beautiful views along a national scenic byway. Enjoy majestic views of the spot where the Mississippi River and the Wisconsin River meet from a 500-foot bluff at this state park.

While at the state park, check out the Bridal Veil Falls waterfall and walk along hiking trails overlooking bluffs and valleys brimming with wildlife, forests, and native plants.

The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

Grotto of the Redemption and Skyline
image by Ben Franske is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The largest manmade grotto in the world, the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, can be found in West Bend, near Wright County. The religious shrine is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City.

Constructed out of stone, it’s made up of a series of nine grottos (a natural or man-made cave) depicting the life of Jesus Christ.

There’s a collection of minerals, fossils, shells, and other artifacts. Construction began in 1912 and continued for 42 years. It earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

The Iowa Speedway

Iowa Speedway Tracks
image by Matt Owen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway race track is located in Newtown, approximately 30 miles east of Des Moines. It hosts several races throughout the year, including the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series.

Stockman House

Stockman House and Garden
image by GPA Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1908 Stockman House was the architect’s first and only prairie schoolhouse-style structure in the state. You can take a tour of it, as well as other prairie-style architecture houses in the Rock Crest-Rock Glen Historic District.

Reiman Gardens

Flowers in Reiman Gardens
image by Scott McLeod is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Reiman Gardens, located at the Iowa State University campus in Ames, offers 17 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens. In addition to beautifully designed gardens, you’ll want to check out the architectural details of the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing and other prairie school structures.

See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit

If you Build a Bridge, They’ll Come to Tour It

The Bridge of Madison County

Bridge of Madison County
image by Teddi Yaeger is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Bridge of Madison County (either the 1922 book by Robert James Waller or the 1995 film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep) is set in Madison County in Winterset, about 30 miles from Des Moines.

The movie was filmed in Winterset. You can take a guided tour of the film sets and the bridges, including the Roseman Covered Bridge (believed to be haunted) and Holliwell Bridge (more than 110 feet long). Both were featured in the movie.

With a tour, you’ll learn the history and architectural facts about these unique bridges and be able to explore some of the other ones in town (including the Cutler Donahoe Bridge).

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams  and Skyline
image by NOAA Photo Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Another book-turned-film that’s set in the Hawkeye State is Shoeless Joe (1982) by WP Kinsella. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, you may be familiar with the line, “If you build it, he will come.” Yes, Field of Dreams would be correct.

The 1989 film starring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, and Amy Madigan was set in Iowa. You can tour the fictional farmhouse of Annie and Ray Kinsella in Dyersville in Dubuque County. The field is there, so come on over.

Interesting and Weird Facts About Iowa

  • A University of Iowa swim coach invented the butterfly stroke.
  • John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor at Iowa State College, created the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), the first electronic digital computer, in the 1940s. He had the assistance of Clifford E. Berry, one of his graduate students.
  • Quaker Oats are produced in Cedar Rapids. It’s the largest milling facility in the world.
  • Iowa produces soybeans, cattle, eggs, corn, oats, and pork.
  • The “Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot” newspaper was published from 1839 to 1843. The newspaper publisher was in Burlington.
  • Iowa is sometimes called the Corn State. This comes as no surprise as Iowa is the largest producer of corn in the U.S. Located on the northern side of the state, Kossuth County has the highest percentage of corn production, churning out more corn than any of its sister counties.
  • Elk Horn, in southwest Iowa near Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest Danish settlement in the U.S. It’s less than one square mile.
  • The house in the famous 1930 American Gothic painting (by Grant Wood) still stands today in Eldon, Iowa. It’s called the Dibble House. You can’t miss that Carpenter Gothic-style roofline window. We can’t guarantee that the farmer and his daughter (and pitchfork) will be at the American Gothic house to pose with you.
  • Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is a yearly 8-day bicycle ride across the state that includes festivals, events, music, and food. It starts around Sergeant Bluff (near the Missouri River) on the northwestern side of the state. It runs through Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, and Lawler to Lansing (near the Mississippi River) in northeastern Iowa.
  • The world’s largest truck stop, the Iowa 80 Truckstop, is in Walcott in Muscatine and Scott County. Since 1964, there’s a chiropractor, a dentist, laundry facilities, food, shopping, and all the amenities a truck driver could ever need or want (think: showers, full-service fuel, a workout room, and more).
  • Pigs outnumber Iowans by about 4 to 1. With a population of just under 3.2 million humans, Iowa has nearly 13 million pigs.
  • Ancient Iowa was once the stomping ground of some notable mega-fauna, including at least two species of giant sloth!

See Related: Bucket List Places to Visit in the US

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