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State Historical Society of Iowa

New Iowa history exhibition hits the road to 99 counties

Jul 1, 2021

Fresh off a 16-month pit stop for the Covid-19 pandemic, the State Historical Society of Iowa’s mobile museum is getting back on the road with a brand-new exhibition.

Housed in a custom-built Winnebago, “Iowa History 101: Iowa’s People & Places” is a 300-square-foot museum on wheels, packed with 56 artifacts and videos that explore 13,000 years of Iowa history, from its earliest residents to those who call it home today.

The mobile museum will carry “Iowa’s People & Places” to all 99 Iowa counties beginning this month through 2023, similar to its first three-year tour but this time with a different exhibition. The first mobile museum exhibition made 175 stops across all 99 counties from 2017 through 2019 and attracted nearly 65,000 visitors, including 11,400 students.

“Our first statewide tour was an enormous success, and Iowans let us know they wanted this traveling museum to keep rolling with another exhibition," said Susan Kloewer, administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa. "We're eager to take this history experience back on the road and to share more stories with Iowans.”

So are the EMC Insurance Companies, which sponsored the first tour and renewed its support for the second.

“EMC Insurance Companies has deep roots in Iowa,” EMC President and CEO Scott Jean said. “We’re proud to be a part of our state’s history and excited to help share it with Iowans across the state.”

The new exhibition unpacks some of the stories of Iowa's past with an eclectic array of artifacts selected from the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines, and its introduction video is narrated by WOI-TV host Jackie Schmillen. Some of the highlights on display include:

  • Token from the Hudson Bay Company from Dubuque County in 1800.
  • Election ticket from 1860.
  • Knitting needles Iowa first lady Jane Kirkwood of Iowa City used to knit clothing for soldiers during the Civil War and World War I.
  • Birchbark lunchbox a Cerro Gordo County boy used in the 1870s.
  • Meskwaki cradleboard from the late 1800s.
  • University of Iowa pennant from Edward Carter of Monroe County, the first African American to get a medical degree from the University of Iowa, in 1907.
  • Paper fan promoting women’s suffrage, from about 1916.
  • Menu from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Des Moines in 1959.
  • Women’s track uniform from Iowa State University from 1972, the year Title IX passed.
  • Boots worn by Des Moines Water Works Director L.D. McMullen during the flood of 1993.
  • Flight suit worn by astronaut Peggy Whitson of Beaconsfield.

The idea for the mobile museum emerged in 2014 from a series of community conversations organized by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the State Historical Society of Iowa. Iowans who care deeply about history made it clear they wanted new ways to access the State Historical Museum’s resources.

Iowans may request a visit from the mobile museum for schools, libraries, local museums, community festivals, county fairs and other places where people gather. Visits are complimentary and the tours are self-guided.

To date, “Iowa’s People & Places” is already scheduled to visit the following communities:

July 9-11: Pomeroy
Pomeroy Sesquicentennial

July 27-31: Columbus Junction
Louisa County Fair

Aug. 6-8: Britt
Hobo Days

Aug. 20-22: Wilton
Founders Day

Sept. 25: Shenandoah

Oct. 3: Lamoni
Annual Fall Festival

More details are available at Iowans can also follow the mobile museum's statewide journey on Facebook at

The traveling exhibition presenting sponsor is EMC Insurance Companies with additional partnership support from Casey’s General Stores, Winnebago Industries, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Mike Wolfe.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.