The Short But Sweet History of Iowa
Before European colonization, the land of Iowa was dominated by (drum roll) the Iowa tribe of native Americans. Louis Joliet and Jean Marquette are the prime suspects for being the first Europeans to visit the state, and the first settlers started arriving around 1833 as extenders from Illinois and Indiana, becoming a state in 1846. That same year, Brigham Young was confirmed as the new leader of the Mormon Church in Council Bluffs. In 1867 Chicago finally reached Council Bluffs by rail - important because Council Bluffs was where the Union Pacific Railroad from the west ended. For nearly 3 years, Council Bluffs became one of the most visited city in the United States, as train passengers got off one line and boarded the other, heading in both directions. For the rest of its existence, Iowa lived and died by the health of the agricultural industry, slumping when farm subsidies were diminished, gleaming during the heady years of wartime food production.
The Hawkeye State
Iowa's name is tied with Ohio for the highest percentage of vowels in its name, beating out such luminaries as Hawaii, Idaho, and Louisiana. The capital is Des Moines, which is also the largest city, followed closely by Cedar Rapids and Davenport. The state motto is the awkwardly phrased "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." Its high point is called, appropriately, Hawkeye Point, and stands at just 1600 feet above sea level. Being a somewhat plain people, their state flower is the rose, their state tree is the oak, their state insect is the bee, and their state song is called "The Song of Iowa." Surprise, surprise! Iowa is mostly white and Christian, with Lutheran and Methodist the top denominations.
The three big universities are University of Iowa (the Hawkeyes), Iowa State University (the Cyclones), and the University of Northern Iowa (the Panthers). There aren't any major league sports teams, but they do host the Chicago Cubs' AAA affiliate, the also-named-Cubs of Iowa City (nicknamed the "I-Cubs" to avoid confusion), and a few other minor league baseball and hockey teams.
8 Things To See In Iowa Before You Die
8. Spirit Lake. A lake allegedly haunted by bad spirits, the accompanying town of Spirit Lake is a great tourist spot for fishing in the summer, ice skating in the winter, and scenic country living year round.
7. National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, in Knoxville. It might not be as big as NASCAR, as thrilling as IRL, or as beloved as demolition derby, but Iowa's own history is steeped in race car lore (Tiny Lund and Dick Hutcherson both hail from Iowa), and the sprint car Hall of Fame is no exception, featuring exhibits on the early days of the sport and tributes to luminaries such as A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, and World War I ace and automobile executive Eddie Rickenbacker.
6. Fourth Street Elevator, in Dubuque. A funicular railway built in 1882, it's billed as the steepest railroad in the world, traveling a short (but indeed very steep) distance up a hill to a formerly private residence transformed into a visitor's center.
5. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, in West Branch. Not only are Hoover and his wife (Iowa native nee Lou Henry) buried there, but his many papers are located there, and it conveys a much more complete version of his life's work than the infamous "Hoovervilles" created during his Presidency.
4. Field of Dreams, just outside of Dyersville. Built for the movie and then left behind, the field itself is free to visit (BYOB - bring your own bat.) What may be more interesting is the feud between the two families living next to the field, both of whom claim ownership rights and offer competing souvenir stands.
3. Stone City. An art colony founded by Iowa native Grant Wood during the Great Depression, it produced some of the best art of the 1930s through murals, pottery, and sculpture. An early precursor to found art, the colony itself consisted of ice house wagons decorated by the tenants themselves, many of which can still be seen today.
2. Grotto of the Redemption, in West Bend. Built in 1912, the Grotto features the largest collection of minerals in one site. Actually it's nine grottos connected that depict the life of Jesus, and the gems contained within are worth over $4 million. It was featured in the David Lynch movie The Straight Story.
1. Effigy Mounds National Monument. Burial mounds in effigy were common among Native American peoples, but this one takes the cake. Birds, wildcats, horses, and lizards are all found among the prominent designs of the mounds throughout the park. Featuring a museum and auditorium, plus several miles of self-guided hiking trails, brings alive the Native American spirit of the Midwest in a way few other places do.
6 Words That Define Iowa
6. Winnebago. In 1958, Forest City, Iowa was a struggling farm town facing a bleak economic future. Businessman John K. Hanson saw an opportunity for cheap industrial labor in the area, and convinced a California trailer home company to begin production in the city. Within two years, they had developed a variation on the trailer home - a home attached to a truck. Called a "motor home" at the time and later a recreational vehicle, the company soon became the most popular one on the market, and its name (from the Iowa county it was found in) became ubiquitous with the motor home.
5. Workshop. The Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, began in 1936, was the first graduate program to offer an MFA in English. Since then it has played host to some of the best writers in the world, as both students and faculty. It has produced 20 Pulitzer winners for fiction, journalism, and poetry. Some of its alumni include Kurt Vonnegut, John Cheever, Philip Roth, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Rita Dove, Robert Lowell, Tennessee Williams, John Irving, and last but not least our very own Igloowhite.
4. Kinsella. W.P. Kinsella's best-selling novel Shoeless Joe is the fictional account of the author (an Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate) building a baseball diamond over his corn fields in the middle of Iowa in an effort to bring back Shoeless Joe Jackson and win his father's long-lost affections. The book was turned into a blockbuster movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, and today the real "Field of Dreams" baseball field is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
3. Caucus. Today, the state is most famous for being home of the first Presidential caucus during primary season. Despite its relatively small population, the state is blanketed by political operatives, supporters, and volunteers in January of a Presidential election year, as candidates try to gain early momentum among the voting public.
2. Okoboji. Pronounced Oh-koh-boo-zhy, and meaning either "beautiful place" or "reeds and rushes" in Dakota, it's the name of the two main lakes in Iowa, (one is West Okoboji and the other is East Okoboji.) In recent years, the mythical college the University of Okoboji has become an in-joke among the locals, and is often used as a proxy for many clubs and events, such as the University of Okoboji Marathon, and University of Okoboji Corvette Club. You can even buy T-shirts and sweaters from the "school."
1. Ethanol. Iowa is not only America's top producer of corn, but also the many corn derivatives, including high fructose corn syrup for sodas and candies, popcorn, cornstarch, and ethanol, a gasoline substitute. Recently ethanol subsidies have come under fire due alternative fuels which may prove more beneficial then ethanol. Needless to say, Iowa corn farmers are not happy about their prospects without protectionism.
Top 10 Famous People From Iowa
10. Henry A. Wallace. Vice President of the United States under Roosevelt, he was kicked out in 1944 for his seemingly socialist views (he came out in favor of Stalin shortly thereafter, but rescinded his support in the 50s.) Progressive Party candidate for President in 1948, he was also the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, and was a big proponent of high-yield crops. Also a proponent of Eastern mysticism.
9. Glenn Miller. Bandleader famous for such songs as "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "In The Mood", he and his plane vanished in 1944 while flying over the English Channel, never to be seen again. For the story of another Iowan whose plane vanished, check out Edward Ely.
8. Cap Anson. Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman and manager for the Chicago Cubs, he played 2500 games for the team, and stands 7th all-time in hits and 4th all-time in RBIs for the league.
7. Wallace Carothers. While working at DuPont, he invented neoprene and nylon. A lifelong sufferer of bipolar disorder, he committed suicide before his fabric hit the commercial market.
6. Nile Kinnick. Probably the most famous person not known outside Iowa, Kinnick was the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback for the Iowa Hawkeyes. His Heisman speech eloquently reminded the world that while he played a game, young men were dying for their country in Europe. Kinnick's remarks became prophetic when he was killed in action in the Navy in 1943. Today, the Hawkeyes play football in Kinnick Stadium as a tribute to their biggest star.
5. Johnny Carson. Perhaps the most famous television personality of all time, Johnny hosted "The Tonight Show" for 30 years, making late-night TV come alive with his quick wit and charming interviewing skills. Seriously. The Amazing Carnac himself.
4. Buffalo Bill Cody. Like Carson a born entertainer, Cody was the epitome of frontier living, as he spent time as a Ranger, soldier, scout, hunter, fur trader, prospector, and entrepreneur before settling into his world-famous Buffalo Bill's Wild West Traveling Show. At one point he was considered the most well-known person in the entire world. He is famous for featuring Sitting Bull among his show, and his progressive treatment of Native Americans. Also, he wrote the famous Arabian-themed ditty we have come to associate with snake charmers and belly dancers.
3. John Wayne. The Duke. Star of 100 films, director of a dozen, Wayne invented the role of the cowboy in Hollywood. He essentially won a lifetime Oscar for his role in True Grit, but his iconic status is renowned even today, 30 years after his death.
2. Herbert Hoover. Our nation's 31st President. An engineering graduate from Stanford, Hoover rose to public acclaim by helping with the food distribution effort in Europe after World War I. A lifelong bureaucrat, Hoover was uncapable of inspiring the American people following the stock market crash, but it is widely acknowledged today that his recovery plans formed the basis for Roosevelt's New Deal. He spent the last 30 years of his life advocating for peace and diplomacy, and the Hoover Institute today remains a paragon of reform and justice. Fun Fact: Hoover invented a game called Hooverball, which is still played in Iowa.
1. Norman Borlaug. The only Nobel Peace Prize winner for agriculture, Borlaug invented a high-yield crop production process which some social scientists have estimated to have saved 1 billion people from starvation. In the abstract world of science, Borlaug spoke in common terms of practical needs, and continues his field work in Mexico even today in his 90s.
15 Interesting But Ultimately Pointless Facts About Iowa
Clear Lake is a tiny town writ large by the tragedy that unfolded there on February 3, 1959: singers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J. P. Richardson (aka "The Big Bopper") died in a plane crash just outside of Clear Lake while touring.
Iowa claims to be the home to many of the world's largest, including the world's largest strawberry (Strawberry Point), coffee pot (Stanton), truck stop (Walcott), popcorn ball (Sac City), bullhead (Crystal Lake), town square (Centerville), bull (A concrete replica in Audubon), and interestingly, the world's largest Cheeto in Algona! It also features the world's crookedest street (Snake Alley in Burlington) and America's oldest standing Dairy Queen.
The town of Le Mars is billed as "Ice Cream Capital of the World." It's home to the Wells Dairy (primarily employed by Blue Bunny), which produces more ice cream in one location annually than anyone else.
In 1944, Algona became the site of the first and only German prisoner of war camp in America during World War II. It housed over 10,000 prisoners during its 2 year run, many of whom were put to work on farms left behind by American soldiers.
In the 1840s at the height of Mormon growth, Council Bluffs was renamed Kanesville after Thomas Kane, a Mormon friend and retail supplier for the many Latter Day Saints treks to Utah at the time.
The town of Riverside isn't that famous now, but you just wait 200 years - it's the "future birthplace" of Enterprise captain James T. Kirk! In 2004, the town was subjected to a little fun by Kirk's alter ego William Shatner when he and Sci-Fi channel conspired to produce Invasion Iowa, in which the town was fooled into thinking the next Star Trek movie would be filmed there.
During the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition, the only death suffered was by Sergeant Charles Floyd, presumably of appendicitis. He was buried near present-day Sioux City on a cliff overlooking the Mississippi now known as Floyd's Bluff. Eventually the Mississippi began eroding the bluff away so much that the town paid to excavate Floyd's body and move it several hundred feet away from the edge of the cliff, where it remains to this day.
A lot of big companies have industrial centers in Iowa - Jell-O, Portland cement, and Heinz ketchup are all produced there - but Maytag is the biggest company formed entirely within Iowa. Incorporated in 1893, they originally built threshing machines, before patenting the aluminum washing tub in 1919, and the agitator in 1922. During World War II they produced B-17s and B-29s for the Air Force. They also introduced coin-operated washers for laundromats, the first automatic dryer, and the first stacked washer/dryer combo. They were also famous for their ads featuring the Maytag repairman who, thanks to Maytag's reliability, often found himself lonely and bored. In April 2006 they were bought out by Whirlpool, and in 2007 their original headquarters in Newton will close its doors forever.
From 1896 to 1932, the Iowa State Fair fairgrounds featured a live thrill show in which 50,000 people gathered at a grandstand to watch two locomotives smash into each other (at 30 miles per hour!). MCed by Joe "Head On" Connolly, 146 shows were performed before being cancelled due to the Great Depression.
At the height of Prohibition, when things got too hot for Al Capone in Chicago, he would hightail it to Dubuque, where he would stay at the Julien Inn. He not only had a private suite, but an underground garage located a block away to stash personal cars (and weaponry) for any unexpected business.
Iowa is an Alcohol beverage control state. That means they control the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol in the state. Iowa is a bit different in that they control the wholesaling, but let owners operate their own retail outlets.
The trampoline was invented by two University of Iowa students in 1935. Other Iowa inventions include the antacid tablet, screen door, and of course, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer.
When Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (then a teacher at the New York Conservatory of music) was invited in 1893 to perform at the Columbian World Fair in Chicago, he stayed in a small home in Spillville, which can be visited even today.
Billed as "the worst act of all time", the Cherry Sisters of Marion were four sisters who played in a band, but had no discernible singing or compositional talent. They composed their own songs (mostly of a religious flavor) and performed morality plays in between numbers. They were so reviled that in New York City the local grocers could not meet customer demand for vegetables, which had been all bought up by theater patrons anxious to throw them at the abominable performers (though they paid top dollar for the privilege.) Yet they were perceived as minor celebrities for their awfulness, and were the toast of New York at the turn of the century. Eventually the money and the fame dried up, and they returned to Iowa, where they lived out their meager days as bakers and housewives.