History Lesson

January 13, 2020
drewnorton's picture

When planning for the 2020 Iowa State Fair, staff members brainstorm new ideas to offer something special for each person attending the Fair. This goal isn’t anything new – it’s actually 100 years old!

When flipping through the book, “Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story”, I spotted a section on what was happening on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in the 1920s.

A common goal of both the State Board of Agriculture and the State Fair Board was and remains to offer something for every single fairgoer.

  • 1920: The construction of the Cattle Barn was completed.
  • 1923: New 4-H Dining Hall opened serving 9,200 meals to 4-H Club members.
  • 1926: An opera was the main attraction in the Grandstand with 4,500 people in attendance.

Whoa - sound familiar? Yes, many things have changed since 1920 but a few things are still at the heart of the Iowa State Fair.

The Cattle Barn is not only used during the Iowa State Fair but will be used for the upcoming Iowa Beef Expo in February. Since the structure was built, there have been plenty of renovations including a new roof, replacement of all gutters and downspouts and a new concrete floor in the foyer area. Additionally, both the north and south ends of the west side were extended 35 feet to the sidewalk. In the last two years, the overhead doors on the west side of the barn were refurbished by replacing rotting wood and receiving a new coat of paint.

The Iowa 4-H program continues to provide opportunities for youth to develop skills that they can use now and throughout their lives. The building renovation will provide a space for 4-H'ers to showcase their individual talents and accomplishments. This fall, concrete slabs were poured for the restroom area and the new addition. The existing building's roof was replaced and masonry work was completed on the south side. Construction will continue this winter into spring. It will feel like a brand new building when Fairgoers and 4-H'ers arrive in August.

It’s been a long time since an opera was featured in the Grandstand but a variety of music genres continues to appeal to Fairgoers of all ages. Just two years ago, 15,775 people attended the Thomas Rhett concert. And so far, 3 of the 2020 Iowa State Fair Grandstand concerts have gone on sale, with 8 more concerts left to announce.  

Reading about Iowa State Fair history reminds us of the traditions so many Iowans fell in love with. Learning what happened 100 years ago helps the event grow for the future. Although the Blue Ribbon Foundation wasn't around 100 years ago, the support we've received in the last 25 years will help sustain the Fairgrounds for the next 100 years.  

The 1920s on the Iowa State Fairgrounds sounds like it was a good time. I am willing to bet the 2020s will be even better!



Interested in learning more about the Iowa State Fair's history. Pick up your copy of "Our State Fair - Iowa's Blue Ribbon Story"