Last Updated on August 6, 2022
After being inspired by a post written by my friend Connie at the Midwest Wanderer,I decided to share some fun facts about Iowa that I’ve learnt from my travels and being an expat in this state! To be completely honest, as a Brit, Iowa isn’t really on the radar as somewhere that people have even heard of. Let alone know anything about it! So here are some facts that you may not know about Iowa, because after all, a huge part of travel is the knowledge that you learn along the way!
Iowa Fun Facts & Trivia
Where Is Iowa?
Let’s start with geography! Iowa is in the Midwest of America and became the 29th state in 1846. It borders 6 other US states: Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois. Illinois and Wisconsin are separated by the Mississippi River (the 2nd longest river in the USA). Although when you think of Iowa, the first thought may be ‘corn’. You may be surprised to know that there are actually more PIGS in Iowa than people!
Films/Books/TV and Famous People From Iowa
- Bill Bryson, the travel writer is from Iowa! – This is literally the ONLY thing I knew about Iowa before moving here. I inherited a huge pile of Bill Bryson books from my Grandad. In the books he’d often talk about growing up in Iowa and Des Moines. He’s one of my favourite travel writers, some of his books have had me crying with laughter!
- The book/film ‘The Bridges of Madison County‘ is set in Madison County, Iowa. The movie stars Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. It is based on the covered bridges that can be found in the area!
- The ‘Field of Dreams‘ movie was filmed in Dyersville. You can still visit the movie location and they’ll often hold special events, such as Ghost Sundays!
- Iowa City was the USA’s first city to be designated as a UNESCO City of Literature. This is a pretty big deal for somewhere like Iowa. There are only 28 cities in 23 countries that have been given this title and there’s only one other in the whole of the USA (Seattle). There’s different criteria that the cities have to meet. Other cities include: Edinburgh (UK), Manchester (UK), Norwich (UK), Nottingham (UK), Barcelona (Spain), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Prague (Czech Republic), Reykjavik (Iceland), Melbourne (Australia).
TV & Movie
- The ‘American Pickers‘ TV show has its home base in Iowa. Their shop ‘Antique Archaeology’ is located in La Claire (they have a second shop in Nashville TN). American Pickers is usually shown on the History Channel and gets shown in England too! *Claim to fame* I saw Frank Fritz in Dubuque once…I may have sneakily taken a picture of his back just to prove it too 😉
- Ashton Kutcher was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This globally known actor starred in ‘That ’70s Show’ along with films such as ‘The Butterfly Effect’ and ‘Dude Where’s My Car’
- Another movie star from Iowa, was John Wayne, however he spent most of his life in California and starred in many Western movies.
- The American composer and playwright Meredith Wilson was born in Mason City. He is most famous for writing the Broadway show and film, ‘The Music Man’. Before I moved to Iowa, I admit, I hadn’t heard of The Music Man (maybe it’s my age!) BUT I had heard of the Christmas song that he had wrote called ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’! You can visit Meredith Wilson’s boyhood home and ‘Music Man Square’ in Mason City!
- Some people may have heard of the singer Ozzy Osbourne biting a head off a bat. I had heard of this but never knew that it happened while at a concert in Des Moines!
- ‘The Day The Music Died‘ – The singer Buddy Holly died in a plane crash after playing a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa. You can still visit the Buddy Holly crash site. It is in the middle of a field but has a memorial to those that died on the plane and a giant pair of glasses like the ones he used to wear.
Other Famous Connections
- The Hotel Julien in Dubuque was said to be a hideout for the Chicago gangster ‘Al Capone’. There’s even a suite named after him!
- The ‘Kinnick Wave’ is a football tradition that made headlines. The Iowa Hawkeyes football stadium is next to the Iowa City Children’s Hospital. During the game everyone in the stadium turns and waves at people watching from the upper floors of the hospital.
Art & Architecture in Iowa
- The artist Grant Wood came from Iowa. Most of his artwork was based on typical Midwestern scenes. Some of his work is on display at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.
- The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t come from Iowa, but Iowa is home to the last remaining hotel in the world that was designed by him. It is located in Mason City and was recently completely restored. The Historic Park Inn Hotel has 27 guest rooms and you can even take a tour of the building! There are other various houses and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that are dotted around the states. However Mason City has the only hotel. Another one of his designs in Mason City is the Stockman House which can also be toured.
Inventions & Manufacturing in Iowa
- Sliced bread was invented in Iowa!
- The motorhome company Winnebago was founded in Iowa. The RVs were named after the county of Winnebago in North Iowa!
- John Deere tractors as we know them started in Waterloo Iowa, after combining with the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. You can take a tour of the John Deere Museum and even stay in a hotel that used to be part of the John Deere factory!
- Sukup, a large grain storage bin manufacturing company, with products being sold in 82 countries across the world, was founded and has its head office in Sheffield Iowa!
- Le Mars, Iowa is known as the ‘Ice Cream Capital of the World’. It’s been the home of the Blue Bunny Ice Cream since 1913. You can visit a retro Blue Bunny ice cream parlour and learn about the history of ice cream at the on-site museum.
(I say ‘records’ as records are always changing and not all are official as such!)
- The Iowa 80 truck stop is said to be the largest truck stop in the world. They even hold their own ‘Truckers Jamboree’ truck shop annually.
- The Iowa State Fair butter cow…say no more.
- The Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque and claims to be the shortest, steepest funicular railway in the world. (It’s not THE steepest as I know that the Scenic Railway in the Blue Mountains has the Guinness World Record for being the steepest with a 52 degree gradient. Whereas the Fenelon Place Elevator has a gradient of 41 degrees, but it could well be the shortest one with a gradient that steep).
- ‘Ripley’s Believe It, Or Not!’, once claimed Snake Alley in Burlington Iowa as the ‘Most Crookedest Street in the World’. Lombard Street in San Francisco actually has more curves, making it longer, but Snake Alley’s ‘switch backs’ are sharper.
Did any of these facts about Iowa surprise you?