Iowa State Fair Historical Timeline
In celebration of the new millennium, Fairgoers were encouraged to “Zero in 10-20, 2000” on a variety of high-tech related exhibits. Credit cards were accepted at the gates for the first time. Iowa Farm Bureau celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Century Farm Awards program. In the Cultural Center, Iowan Bryan Berg created a replica of the state’s capitol from playing cards. The U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performances delighted visitors.
A new corporate logo was phased in during the 2001 Fair. Crafters from across the state found a new home in the Walnut Center. Entertainment offerings included the Farmall Promenade Dancing Tractors, Beatlemania and the Shenani-guns Comedy Wild West Show. Gary Slater was named Fair manager. Marion Lucas continued as CEO until early 2002.
The 2002 Fair kicked off a three-year campaign for the Fair’s Sesquicentennial in 2004. For the first time Fair attendance topped one million, a remarkable milestone for “The Big One.” The approximately $10.2 million renovation of the Varied Industries Building was completed, making it the largest single-level exhibit facility in the state. A lovable blue ribbon named Fairfield debuted as the Fair’s mascot. He was named through an online contest on the Fair’s website and salutes the Fair’s first home in Fairfield. The last Sunday became known as “Extreme Sunday” and featured the Village People on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage, attracting an estimated 10,000 fans. In 2003, a new $1 million Skyglider, stretching 1440 feet, was installed. The new ride connects Gate #10 to the heart of the Fairgrounds. Restaurant Row, a newly redesigned eatery area, and an online newsletter debuted. The Livestock Pavilion received a new roof and Legacy Terrace was completed. A new cyber station in the Varied Industries Building allowed Fairgoers access to the Internet and email.
Perfect weather averaging a daily high of 76 degrees and hugely appealing Sesquicentennial activities marketed locally and nationally all helped drive a record 1,053,978 visitors to the 2004 Iowa State Fair.
The Sesquicentennial Horse Caravan, the Torch Run and USA Weekend Magazine’s May ranking of the Fair as the #2 summer fun spot in the U.S. helped make opening day one of the largest in history, tallying nearly 84,000. More than 96,000 visitors – also one of the largest counts ever – turned out for Extreme Sunday, the Fair’s eleventh and final day. On-grounds ATM withdrawals totaled nearly $2 million. The Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) shuttle ridership rose 36 percent with more than 113,000 riders. For the first time ever, more than 5,000 kegs of beer were sold.
National media visiting included Bill Geist and a crew from CBS News Sunday Morning, USA Today and Monster Nation, which produces television shows for the Discovery Channel, also spent four days on site. ESPN ranked the Fair’s debut Outhouse Race among its Top 10 Plays of the Day.
Additional superlatives included 103 State Fair Queen candidates, a new record; one of the top five draft horse shows in the nation; and 10.2 million hits on iowastatefair.org over the 11-day run. The Sale of Champions set a new record of $190,500 with 11 record-selling prices. Plus, the Super Bull broke the 1995 record, weighing in at 3,378 pounds.
The 2005 Iowa State Fair proved it was “America’s Favorite Fair” by surpassing the one million mark for the fourth consecutive year. The Fair was challenged with rain on the first three days and early school start dates. In conjunction with MTA, expanded shuttle bus service from a new location at Southeast Polk High School was added and a record-breaking 178,164 riders took advantage of the convenient service, now available in three locations. The Richard O. Jacobson museum opened in time for the Fair. The Grandstand line-up featured events ranging from Professional Bull Riding to Garrison Keillor, including two sold-out shows: Keith Urban and Brad Paisley with special guest Sara Evans.
The “Only at the Fair” fun of the 2006 Iowa State Fair attracted more than a million visitors for the fifth consecutive year. Picture perfect weather on Extreme Sunday drew an estimated 112,295 – a record for the Fair’s last day. Special activities for the day included free performances by Disney star Raven (one of the largest free entertainment crowds with more than 10,000 attendees), Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, The Buckinghams and two human cannonball launches.
The 2006 Fair also debuted the Fair’s kids’ club, Blue Ribbon Kids, a club for kids 10 and under, as well as the Susan Knapp Amphitheater in Heritage Village. A record number of entries were noted in dairy cattle, foods, fabric and threads, photography, stock dog trials, angora and boer goats and rabbits. After 15 years of apprenticing with Norma “Duffy” Lyon, Sarah Pratt became the Fair’s fourth butter sculptor.
“Sounds Like Fun” summed up the 2007 Iowa State Fair, which, despite stiflingly hot weather, attracted more than a million visitors for the sixth year in a row. The Animal Learning Center, an ag-education facility, opened with exhibits showing Fairgoers about the animal birthing process. In addition to displays of chicks, lambs, kids and piglets, 10 calves were born in it during the Fair. The Food Department – the largest of any state fair in the country – moved from the Family Theaters to the re-named Elwell Family Food Center, formerly the Iowa Tourism Building. The new location provided additional display and judging space. The tourism exhibits moved to the south hallway of the Varied Industries Building. A wind turbine for renewable energy generation debuted on Expo Hill, and the newly-renovated Iowa State Fair historical museum re-opened. New horseshoe courts were constructed to the east of Pioneer Hall. The Fair ceremoniously broke ground on a major $20 million capital improvement project. Construction commenced after the 2007 Fair.
The 2008 Fair – “U Gotta Love It” – drew a record 1,109,150 people to the grounds. More than 11,000 Fairgoers packed into the Grandstand in the early hours of opening day to set a world record for the most people simultaneously eating a corndog. The glamour of a world record, paired with free admission and a free corndog, contributed to the largest opening day attendance on record.
An Olympic Pavilion set up near Rock Island Avenue offered continuous televised coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and Fairgoers watched as Des Moines native and butter-sculpture subject Shawn Johnson took home gymnastics gold. The Budweiser Clydesdales paraded through the grounds daily, and Fairgoers flocked to see the World’s Largest Traveling Horse Wheel and Stable Display. Construction continued on the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, a new, world-class facility featuring an indoor arena, practice arena and seating for 3,500 Fairgoers scheduled for completion in time for the 2010 Fair.
“State Fair Time” in 2009 drew a million-plus crowd for the seventh consecutive year, but rain led to a drop in attendance from the record-setting 2008 Fair. Des Moines native, gold medal Olympian and Dancing with the Stars champion Shawn Johnson served as Parade Marshal and took part in opening ceremonies along with her dance partner, Mark Ballas. Fairgoers brought canned goods for free admission opening day helping the Fair collect 74,375 pounds of food for the Food Bank of Iowa. Improvements were made throughout the grounds. Most notably, the Elwell Family Food Center renovation was completed in time for the 2009 Fair, and Grandfather’s Barn was re-opened with the Wine Experience exhibit. The Journey with opening act Heart concert was a Grandstand sell-out. The Way We Live Award made its debut recognizing five Iowa farm families who demonstrate a daily dedication to animal agriculture and exemplify farm values.
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