What is Iowa known for?
Iowa is known for its rich history, productive agriculture, and Midwestern culture. The Hawkeye State is also known for the Iowa State Fair, Pikes Peak State Park, and cities such as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Sioux City.
Few states embody the American Midwest region the way Iowa does. The spectacular landscapes and chic urban centers of other states give way to farmlands and cozy small towns. Life goes at a slower, simpler pace. A superficial glance may dismiss Iowa as boring, but that’s far from the case.
There’s much more than corn that makes Iowa a golden place. Read on to find out what makes Iowa famous:
- 23 Things Iowa is Known For
- 1. Corn
- 2. Des Moines
- 3. World’s Largest Truck Stop
- 4. Frontier History
- 6. The First Electronic Digital Computer
- 7. Iowa Speedway
- 8. Iowa State Fair
- 9. The Hawkeye State
- 10. The Eastern Goldfinch
- 11. John Wayne
- 12. Taco Pizza
- 13. Sliced Bread
- 14. Ice Cream Capital of the World
- 15. The Mississippi River
- 16. The Missouri River
- 17. Clear Lake
- 18. Pikes Peak State Park
- 19. Cedar Rapids
- 20. Oak Trees
- 21. Grotto of the Redemption
- 22. American Gothic House
- 23. Iowa City
- FAQs About Famous Iowa Things
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23 Things Iowa is Known For
Iowa is known for growing corn. Lots of corn. Iowa produces more corn than any other state, and Iowa ranks number one for corn production in America. In fact, Iowa’s farms provide over 16% of the nation’s corn. Iowa’s economy is primarily agricultural, and one of the state’s unofficial nicknames is “The Corn State.”
2. Des Moines
This city in Polk County gets its name from the Des Moines River. It is a major hub for insurance companies, with health insurance giants like Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield headquartered there. It also serves as an important center for political caucuses, being the site of the first of these events in the Presidential primaries.
3. World’s Largest Truck Stop
Located outside the town of Walcott in eastern Iowa, the Iowa 80 Truckstop is practically a town itself! Amenities for truckers include a dentist’s office, a chiropractor’s office, a movie theater, a small gym, and much more. Truck-related festivities are held throughout the year, ranging from a Trucker’s Jamboree to a “beauty contest” for trucks.
4. Frontier History
The first Europeans to arrive in Iowa were the French. Although sparsely settled, it was part of the French Louisiana territory. In 1803, Iowa was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
American immigration into Iowa began slowly. Most of the state was rolling grassland, except for the farthest east regions. The scarcity of trees for building and fuel made settlement difficult at first, but immigration eventually picked up steam, especially with the westward expansion of railroads (pun intended).
5. Native American Heritage
Long before Europeans arrived, Iowa was home to several Native American tribes. One of the most famous of these tribes was the Dakota Sioux. The state’s name, Iowa, derives from the Ioway tribe.
Although not from Iowa, the famous warrior Chief Black Hawk launched his first attack on American settlements from Iowa Indian Territory into Illinois. Today, a county in northeastern Idaho bears his name.
He is said to be buried in the Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington, in the southeastern corner of the state. The famous Black Hawk helicopters are also named for him.
6. The First Electronic Digital Computer
Although California is famous for the tech Mecca of Silicon Valley, it was in Iowa that the electronic digital computer was first created. On the campus of Iowa State University, John V Atanasoff and Clifford Berry put together a machine that by today’s standards is antiquated, but was revolutionary at the time.
Today, a plaque outside the Physics Hall on the Iowa State University campus commemorates the “Birthplace of the Computer.”
7. Iowa Speedway
Being a good Midwestern state, Iowans love racing. While their neighbor Indiana may be more widely known for its Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Iowa has its own track.
The racetrack hosts races throughout the year, and even events where visitors can get behind the wheel of a racecar.
8. Iowa State Fair
Any state, especially an agrarian one, would simply be incomplete without a state fair. Every year in mid-August, the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines comes to life with rides, concerts, and competitions. Contests at the Iowa State Fair include the largest or finest farm animal competitions, as well as more human-oriented ones such as pie-eating and arm wrestling.
9. The Hawkeye State
Iowa’s official nickname has an interesting backstory. The term “Hawkeye” originated in James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel The Last of the Mohicans as an epithet bestowed on the protagonist for his skill as a hunter.
While that story was set in early New York, a pair of Iowans, Judge David Rorer and journalist James G. Edwards, felt that the term Hawkeye embodied the frontier spirit of the Iowan settlers. Their efforts paid off and the name stuck.
10. The Eastern Goldfinch
Despite being called the Hawkeye State, Iowa’s state bird is not a hawk, but a songbird. Also known as the American goldfinch, this bright yellow bird was chosen as the Iowa state bird because it was commonly found in the state and often stayed through winter. No doubt its bright plumage and bright song were (and still are) a pleasant relief during cold, dreary winters.
11. John Wayne
Although famous for his fictional adventures set in America’s southwest, Film legend John Wayne was born on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, a tiny town in Madison County. His family moved to California in 1916 where he would spend the rest of his childhood and eventually become involved in the film industry. The place of his birth now houses a museum in memory of “The Duke.”
12. Taco Pizza
Happy Joe’s, a pizza parlor in Davenport, Iowa claims to be the first to fuse Mexican and Italian classics in a way only an American could. Back in 1974, Joe Whitty, added taco chips, tomatoes, and lettuce to a pizza, and thus the taco pizza was born. Since then, other chains have contributed their own takes, adding ground beef, taco seasoning, and even bean dip.
13. Sliced Bread
Another indisputably American food product traces its origins to Iowa—sliced bread. Otto Rohwedder, an Iowa-born jeweler residing in Missouri invented the bread-slicing machine, giving rise to pre-sliced loaves of bread. While this invention may have first seen the light in Missouri, it wouldn’t come about without an Iowa man’s ingenuity.
14. Ice Cream Capital of the World
What would a good meal be without dessert? The town of Le Mars, Iowa boasts of being the global capital of this frozen confection. Blue Bunny Ice Cream is made here, with the company claiming that no other location produces as much ice cream from one manufacturer. Le Mars is also unique in that it has probably the only visitor’s center combined with an ice cream parlor.
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15. The Mississippi River
The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers play a significant role in defining Iowa’s borders. To the east, the Mississippi River forms the entirety of the border. Along the banks of the river, one finds some of the best fishing spots in the state (although everyone has their own opinion about that sort of thing!). Other aquatic activities include kayaking and river cruises.
16. The Missouri River
Iowa, to the west, borders Nebraska and South Dakota. The entirety of the border with Nebraska is formed by the Missouri River.
The course of the river helped define the borders between western Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Sioux City, the largest city in Woodbury county, sits near a tristate area formed by this juncture of three states. Further downstream, Council Bluffs sits just across the river from Omaha, Nebraska.
17. Clear Lake
Besides rivers, Iowa also has several lakes, with Clear Lake being one of the most popular destinations. Boating and kayaking are very popular here, as is soaking up the sun on the shore. Bet you never thought you could do that in Iowa before. There are also several hiking trails around the lake and the surrounding area.
One can also visit the nearby “The Day the Music Died” memorial. This site marks the tragic plane crash in 1959 which claimed the lives of musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. They had taken off late at night from nearby Mason City, Iowa on their way to Minnesota, but adverse winter weather caused the pilot to lose control of the plane.
18. Pikes Peak State Park
You probably scratched your head at reading that title, thinking “wait, isn’t that something Colorado is famous for?”
Actually, before making his way westward, Zebulon Pike visited this site in Iowa. Pikes Peak State Park in Clayton County features hiking trails, camping spots, and, in certain areas, mountain biking trails.
19. Cedar Rapids
Iowa’s second-largest city claims to have five seasons. The city website attributes the extra season to the leisurely pace of life in the city. The city boasts all the amenities of a bigger city minus all the hubbub and stress. Restaurants, events, and art galleries, they’re all there, and with a population of just over 133,000, it’s certainly not overcrowded.
20. Oak Trees
The oak tree is Iowa’s official state tree. However, there are twelve different species of oak tree found throughout the state. The most common is the bur oak, found all across Iowa. Others tend to be limited to specific regions.
21. Grotto of the Redemption
A unique testament to Roman Catholicism in Iowa is the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. This remarkable shrine depicts scenes from the life of Jesus Christ in nine different grottos, or caves. The grotto was made using minerals and precious stones and is considered to be one of the largest collections of precious minerals and stones in the world.
22. American Gothic House
Everyone knows the classic painting “American Gothic.” The house in the background of that famous depiction of Iowa farmers is a real house in Eldon, Iowa. The house itself is only open to the public on the second Saturday of the month from April to October, but the nearby visitor’s center has more regular hours.
23. Iowa City
The town of Iowa City was the first state capital of Iowa before the capital moved to Des Moines in 1857. Though no longer the state capital, it is still the county seat of Johnson County. The nearby town of West Branch is known for being the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, the only US president from Iowa.
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FAQs About Famous Iowa Things
What does the name “Iowa” mean?
The word Iowa comes from a Dakota Sioux word meaning “the sleepy ones” in reference to the rival Ioway tribe. For the record, although history remembers them as the Ioway, their name for themselves was the Baxoje.
What is the state abbreviation for Iowa?
Iowa’s state abbreviation is IA.
Now you don’t have to wonder “what is Iowa known for” anymore!
As you can see, there’s a lot to discover about the Hawkeye State. If you want to learn more about another great Midwestern state, check out our article on Illinois!