Butter Cow History
In 1911, J.K. Daniels sculpted the Fair's first butter cow and was succeeded by J.E. Wallace of Florida. In 1957, Earl Frank Dutt of Illinois took over the sculpting duties. Norma “Duffy” Lyon of Toledo, Iowa, began sculpting in 1960, becoming the fourth person and first woman to sculpt the Fair's butter beauties.
In 2006, after 15 years of apprenticing with Duffy, Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines became the Fair's fifth butter sculptor. In addition to her first Butter Cow, Pratt also crafted Superman of Superman Returns (Norwalk, Iowa, native Brandon Routh, who starred as the Man of Steel) and "Mr. State Fair" Bill Riley (in honor of his 60th Fair).
The Butter Cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Once inside the 40-degree cooler, layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges - measuring about 5-1/2-ft high and 8-ft long. Each year, much of the butter is recycled and can be reused for up to 10 years.
A real dairy cow weighs more than 1,000 pounds, but the butter version comes in at around 600 pounds. Did you know the butter cow would butter about 19,200 slices of toast and take an average person two lifetimes to consume?
In addition to the Butter Cow, a companion sculpture also graces the Agriculture Building coolers.
Companion Sculptures by Year
- 1996 — Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” (honoring Iowa’s Sesquicentennial)
- 1997 — Elvis Presley
- 1998 — An American eagle
- 1999 — Duffy’s own version of Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”
- 2000 — Christian Peterson sculpting “The Gentle Doctor” statue (Petersen was Duffy’s mentor and teacher).
- 2001— John Wayne
- 2002 — The Peanuts Gang
- 2003 — A Harley-Davidson motorcycle (in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary)
- 2004 — A birthday cake in honor of the Fair’s Sesquicentennial and an Iowa barn
- 2005 — Tiger Woods
- 2006 — “Mr. State Fair” Bill Riley (in honor of his 60th Fair) and Superman (Norwalk, Iowa, native Brandon Routh)
- 2007 — Harry Potter
- 2008 — Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and a tribute to four Iowans who changed the face of the world’s agriculture: Etta May Budd, George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug
- 2009 — A tribute to the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon
- 2010 —Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham (in honor of its 50th anniversary)
- 2011 — A replica of the 1911 butter cow sculptures, including a calf, young boy and chicken. A sculpture of a young girl with a butterfly was added as a tribute to Norma “Duffy” Lyon.
- 2012 — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Disney film)
- 2013 — A tribute to the Historic Lincoln Highway (and President Lincoln)
- 2014 — A celebration of the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams
- 2015 — A celebration of the 80th anniversary of Monopoly
- 2016 — A celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek
- 2017 — A celebration of the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder and a replica of the Solheim Cup as the tournament visited Des Moines.
- 2018 — A celebration of the 100th anniversary of John Deere entering the tractor business with a replica of the Waterloo Boy Tractor.
- 2019 — A celebration of 50 years of Sesame Street.