Fun and interesting Iowa facts

85 Interesting & Fun Facts About Iowa: The Hawkeye State

In this article, discover 85 interesting and fun facts about Iowa State, USA.

Have you ever wondered what Iowa, the “Land Where the Tall Corn Grows”, is famous for (besides…well…corn)? Let’s find out together.

Iowa At-a-Glance

Location: Upper Midwestern U.S., bordered by six states and two rivers.
Population: 3,190,369 (2022 est.)
Capital: Des Moines
Largest City: Des Moines
Area: 56,273 sq mi
Official Language: English
Climate: Humid continental climate, hot summers and cold winters.
(Sources: Iowa Open Data, Wikipedia)

General Iowa Facts

1. Iowa State is located in the Midwestern United States, roughly at the center of the region.  

2. It is one of 27 US states that are landlocked.

3. Iowa is bordered by Minnesota to the north, Wisconsin and Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, and Nebraska and South Dakota to the west.

4. The Mississippi River forms the state border between Iowa and Wisconsin/Illinois.

5. Iowa covers 55,857 mi² (144,669 km²), making it the 26th largest state, sitting between Illinois and New York State in terms of size.

6. If Iowa were a country, it would be similar in size to Tajikistan or Nepal.

7. With a population of 3.2 million people, Iowa is the 3rd most populous state, sitting between Utah and Nevada in terms of population.

A view of downtown Des Moines, Iowa across the river
Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, on the Des Moines River

8. Iowa’s capital city is Des Moines, the largest city in the state. With a population of 214,000 (metro 559,000), it is the 106th largest city in the US.

9. Other major cities in Iowa include Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City, and Iowa City. The latter was the first Iowa state capital and is now home to the University of Iowa.

10. The state has 99 counties, which are laid out as an almost perfect grid of boxes (rather than being dictated by geological features like in most states).

11. Iowa is named after the Iowa River, which is named after the Iowa tribe. It means “one who puts to sleep.”  

12. Other tribes traditionally inhabiting the state were the Dakota Sioux, Missouri, Illini, Ioway, and Otoe.

A Chinese pavilion beside the river at Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens in Des Moines
Chinese Pavilion in Des Moines

13. The abbreviation for Iowa is IA. In fact, the abbreviation uses the first and last letters instead of the first two to avoid confusing it with the number 10. It is the only state abbreviation made up of 2 vowels.

14. Iowa is nicknamed the Hawkeye State, after Hawk-eye, the scout in the 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. The name was promoted by a local judge and publisher, and 12 years after the book was published, they managed to get the nickname officially approved.

15. The University of Iowa also uses the name for its sports teams (the Iowa Hawkeyes) and official Mascot (Herky the Hawk).  

16. Iowa is also sometimes called the Corn State or the Tall Corn State/Land Where the Tall Corn Grows because it produces more corn than any other state.

A grain farm in Iowa
Farmland in Iowa

17. Yet another nickname, although infrequent, is “Land of the Rolling Prairie”, as it lies mostly within the Great Plains.

18. State slogans have included “A Place to Grow”, “Discover Iowan Treasures”, “Iowa, You Make Me Smile”, “Iowa Welcome You”, “Iowa…Field of Opportunities”,

19. People who live in the state of Iowa are called Iowans or Hawkeyes.

20. The state flower of Iowa is the wild rose (fun fact: the province of Alberta in Canada also has the wild rose as its official flower).

The flag of Iowa
The Iowa state flag

21. Iowa’s state motto is “Our liberties we prize and our rights we maintain”.

22. Iowa’s flag features three vertical stripes: blue represents loyalty, truth, and justice; white represents purity; red represents courage. An eagle carries streamers inscribed with the state motto.

Interesting Facts About Iowa

23. UNESCO dubbed Iowa City the nation’s City of Literature.

A stone tower beside water in Backbone State Park, Iowa
Stone boathouse in Backbone State Park

24. Iowa has no national parks or UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

25. The state, however, has 83 state parks. Some of the most popular include Backbone State Park (the state’s first), Maquoketa Caves State Park (famous for its caves), Ledges State Park (famous for its hiking trails), and Pikes Peak State Park (offering the best views of the Mississippi River).

26. Only 0.21% of Iowa state’s land is protected, one of the ten lowest percentages of any state.

27. Despite 92% of the state being farmland, most of the residents live in urban areas rather than in rural ones.

Old Iowa Capitol building
The Old Iowa Capitol in Iowa City

28. Iowa has 27 National Historic Landmarks, including several old houses like the birthplace of former US President Herbert Hoover, the original capitol in Iowa City (Old Capitol Museum), and several historic mines, jails, towboats, and archaeological sites.

29. There is a monument to Sergeant Floyd, the only Lewis and Clark Expedition member who died in Sioux City.

30. The Mississippi River’s ecology and wildlife are featured at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque.  

31. Iowa also has a whole museum devoted to Czech and Slovakian culture, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, in Cedar Rapids.

32. Iowa is home to one of the most crooked streets in the world, Snake Alley on Heritage Hill in Burlington. The street is made to mimic vineyard paths in countries like Germany and France.

Aerial view of the Mississippi River flowing through Iowa
The Mississippi River in Iowa

33. Iowa has more golf courses per capita than any other state.

34. RAGBRAI is a week-long group cycling tour that spans the entire state of Iowa, making it the longest bicycling tour in the world.

35. Iowa City has long been considered the “hippiest” town in Iowa, but Decorah now takes the crown. The latter is known for its arts scene, food co-ops, and having one of the largest seed banks in the world.

36. The state’s highest point is 1670 ft (509 m) at Hawkeye Point, while the state’s lowest point is at 480 ft (146 m) at the Mississippi River.

37. Iowa is known for having some of the most productive and richest soil in the world, with 11,000 different soil types. In fact, the state even has an official state soil, called “Tama soil“.

A wind turbine on a field in Iowa
Iowa is a major wind energy producer.

38. Besides corn, Iowa is the top pork producer in the US and is one of the top producers of beef, soybeans, and grains.

39. Iowa is one of the windiest states. It is home to around 6000 wind turbines, producing the 2nd most wind energy in the US after Texas.

40. The Bridges of Madison County (book and film) is named after a real county in Iowa State. The county really does have some cool bridges, including 19 historically covered ones.

41. Iowa is home to 20 Olympic athletes.

42. Liang Chow, the gymnastics coach from Des Moines, has successfully coached two Olympic champions in the sport.

A red, wooden, covered bridge in Iowa's Madison County
One of several bridges of Madison County

43. One of the few athletes to compete in both the summer and winter Olympics is hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones of Des Moines, Iowa.

44. The World Food Prize, which awards individuals around the world for their contribution to food quality and availability, is based in Des Moines, Iowa.

45. Besides the University of Iowa, there are two other universities in the state: Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

46. Another native Iowan is television host Johnny Carson, who was born and raised in Iowa until age eight.

47. One of the authors of the Nancy Drew series was born in Iowa: Mildred Wirt Benson. She was one of the ghostwriters who published as “Carolyn Keene.”

Profile shots of two famous people from Iowa
Famous Iowans Johnny Carson and Ashton Kutcher

48. Famous actor, producer, and restaurant owner Ashton Kutcher is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

49. Iowa native Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the Bread-Slicing Machine. He made this invention in his hometown of Davenport, with his sliced bread first hitting the shelves in Missouri.

50. Coach Dave Armbruster invented the dolphin kick and used to refine the butterfly stroke. He was the University of Iowa’s head coach for over 30 years.

51. George Nissen and Larry Griswold built the world’s first modern trampoline at the University of Iowa in 1934 to train athletes.

52. Pinterest was co-founded by Ben Silbermann, a resident of Des Moines.

A trampoline
We have Iowa to thank for modern trampolines

53. Iowa is home to the first gas-powered tracker, which was invented by John Froelich. John went on to start a company which became known as John Deere.

54. Des Moines resident F.A. Wittern is the reason we have vending machines today. His first machine only cost $12 to make!

55. Iowa is no stranger to weird laws. It’s technically against the law for mustached men to kiss women publicly in Iowa.

56. In fact, even if you went through the effort of shaving if the kiss lasts longer than five minutes, you’d also be breaking the law.

57. In Ottumwa, it’s technically illegal for men to wink at women they don’t know.

58. If you own a horse and live in Marshalltown, don’t let your horse eat fire hydrants; it’s also forbidden.

Historical Facts About Iowa

59. The first inhabitants of Iowa arrived in the region as long as 12,000 years ago.

60. Iowa was home to the Otoe, Dakota Sioux, Ioway, Illini, and Missouri tribes before the arrival of the first European settlers.

61. French explorers arrived in Iowa for the first time in 1673. In 1682, they claimed the region for France.

A painting of an indigenous person in Iowa from the 1800s
A famous painting of See-non-ty-a, an Iowa Medicine Man

62. For the next hundred years, the French and the Spanish fought over the land, with the region being French Louisiana or Spanish Louisiana. Some settlers came to work in lead mines.

63. After the US acquired the area in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Iowa fell into the large District of Louisiana to the north. The US began removing natives from the area and encouraging settlers to go there.

64. Congress created the Iowa Territory in 1838.

65. On December 18, 1846, Iowa was admitted to the US as the 29th state, with Iowa City as its capital.

66. The final Native American Indian claim to land in the state was removed by the Sioux Cession in 1851.

Crowd of people at the Iowa State Fair
The Iowa State Fair has over 150 years of history.

67. The first Iowa State Fair took place in 1854. From 1886 until today, the state fair continues every year at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

68. In 1857, the state capital was moved from Iowa City to Des Moines.

69. In 1869, the Supreme Court ruled that women should be allowed to practice law. Arabella Mansfield of Iowa became the first female lawyer in the history of the US.

70. Construction of the current Iowa State Capitol was completed in 1886. It is the only 5-domed state capitol in the US.

71. One of the leading African American-oriented newspapers in the Midwest, the Iowa Bystander, was founded in 1894. The newspaper was based in Des Moines and was published for many decades.

The state capitol building of Iowa
Iowa State Capitol

72. The Unites States’ first transcontinental airmail route landed in Iowa City in 1920.

73. In 1921, Herbert Hoover of Iowa became the 31st president of the United States.

74. After the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1922, women were given the opportunity to vote and to run for office. The first woman elected to Iowa’s statewide office was May Francis.

75. The first woman elected to the House of Iowa legislature was Carolyn Pendray in 1928. In 1932, she went on to be elected to the Senate.

76. In the 1930s, the first electronic digital computer was designed, built, and operated at Iowa State University.

Aerial view of Iowa City
Iowa City today

77. The first Iowan to be elected to the office of the Vice President of the US was Henry Agard Wallace in 1940.

78. John Mott of Iowa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for his work with the International YMCA.

79. Another Iowan, Norman Ernest Borlaug, won the prize in 1980 for promoting the “Green Revolution”. He developed strains of wheat that were disease-resistant.

80. The state has always held the first caucus in presidential elections since 1972, up until the most recent one in 2020.

81. In the 1970s, Iowa accepted thousands of Southeast Asian refugees during the Indochina/Vietnam War.

Boats on the Mississippi River in Iowa
Barges on the Mississippi River near Muscatine, Iowa

82. In 2001, an Amtrak train derailment in Iowa resulted in 90 injured and one killed.

83. Residents were forced to flee their homes in Delhi, Iowa in 2010 when massive rainfall caused the Lake Delhi Dam to fail.

84. In a 2012 tour of the US, now China President Xi Jinping visited Muscatine, Iowa, to bring back memories of an earlier visit he’d made there almost 30 years earlier to look at farming technology.

85. In 2020, Donald Trump sued several key Iowa counties for making it easier to vote by mail.

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