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Iowa History Daily: August 24 - Birth of the Butter Cow

Iowa History Daily: On August 24, 1911, the first ever butter cow went on display at the Iowa State Fair. Initially sculpted by J.T. Daniels, the bovine made of butter represents one of the most significant symbols of the Iowa State Fair.

Over the hundred-plus years of butter cow history, five artists have had the opportunity to sculpt the important Iowa sculpture. After J.K. Daniels sculpted the Fair's first butter cow, J.E. Wallace took over. The duties passed to Earl Frank Dutt in 1957, Earl Frank Dutt crafted the cow until Norma “Duffy” Lyon of Toledo, Iowa, started sculpting in 1960. After a 15 year apprenticeship at Duffy’s side, Sarah Pratt took over the duties in 2006.

Each sculpture starts with a simple list of ingredients: a frame constructed over wood, metal, wire, and steel mesh, as well as roughly 600 lbs. of butter. The 5.5’ tall and 8’ long cow slowly comes to life as the artist applies enough butter to cover an estimated 19,000 slices of toast.

Starting in 1996, the butter cow found companionship with different sculptures. Grant Wood, Elvis, Snow White (and the Seven Dwarfs), and a host of other butter sculptures have graced the popular attraction. A variety of Iowans including Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, agronomist Norman Borlaug, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace, “Mr. State Fair” Bill Riley, and the 2023 athlete trio of Jack Trice, Caitlin Clark, and Kurt Warner, have all found butter sculpture fame. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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