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State Historical Society of Iowa

State Historical Museum's "First in the Nation" Exhibition Open Through February

Sep 26, 2019

DES MOINES – While the nation focuses on the Iowa Caucuses in the very near future, the State Historical Museum of Iowa turns to the tradition's colorful past.

Featuring images, film clips, newspaper articles and more than 100 artifacts from 1972 to 2016, the museum's "First in the Nation: Shaping Presidential Politics Since 1972" exhibition is now open and will help voters and others understand the state's unique role in presidential politics.

"Every four years, Iowa becomes the focal point for presidential candidates, political insiders and the entire world as the first contest on the road to the White House," said Susan Kloewer, administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa. "With this exhibition, we are helping to demystify the caucus process while sharing campaign stories from the past. We encourage Iowans and visitors to see this exhibition."

"First in the Nation" explores candidates’ journeys through the Iowa caucus cycle, from their first exploratory visits all the way through their frenzied final hours. The exhibition shows how candidates organize their campaigns, meet everyday Iowans and participate in the excitement of caucus day. While Iowa does not pick the president, it narrows the field of candidates who test their message and organizational skills to win one of the proverbial "three tickets out of Iowa" and a head start on the race to the White House.

In the exhibition, guests and visitors can:

  • Watch a video about Iowa’s unique position as host of the first-in-the-nation caucus.
  • Take a selfie with their favorite 2020 presidential candidates.
  • See campaign and election artifacts, including the button collection of David Yepsen, the host of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" and former political reporter for The Des Moines Register.
  • See an 1856 Republican Ticket, the first presidential election with a Republican nominee.
  • See an Iowa Caucus jersey from the Iowa Cubs. It's a newly acquired item from the team when it honored Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses with special uniforms and caps.

If you go:

  • "First in the Nation: Shaping Presidential Politics Since 1972"
  • State Historical Museum of Iowa, 600 E. Locust St., Des Moines
  • Now through February
  • 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
  • Admission is free

Related Events

“Caucus Iowa: Journey to the Presidency”
Monday, Oct. 14, 2019
5:00-7:30 p.m.
State Historical Museum of Iowa

Watch a screening of the Iowa Public Television documentary “Caucus Iowa: Journey to the Presidency,” which showcases a political rite of passage more than four decades in the making. This yearlong project premiered in 2016 and shows how Iowa became the political epicenter and launching pad for the world’s most powerful position, the president of the United States. The 50-minute documentary features interviews with political leaders from across the country as well as materials from the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting, a special collection at Wartburg College. Presented by IPTV and the State Historical Museum of Iowa, the event starts at 5 p.m. with a reception and brief guided tours of the museum’s “First in the Nation” exhibit, continues with the screening at 6 p.m. and concludes with another exhibition tour at 7:15 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

Women in Politics
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019
5:00-7:30 p.m.
State Historical Museum of Iowa

Nearly a century after women started voting nationwide, a panel of influential Iowa women from across the political spectrum will discuss how women have shaped Iowa and national politics so far and what they foresee in the years to come. Hear insights from Annah Aschbrenner, 2020 editor for USA Today; Paula Dierenfeld, mayor of Johnston; Renee Hardman, a West Des Moines city councilwoman; and Karen Kedrowski, director of Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. The event starts at 5 p.m. with a reception and continues with the panel discussion from 6 to 7 p.m. Visitors can tour the museum’s “First in the Nation” exhibition before and after the presentation, until 7:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

History Alive: Laws, Rights and Elections
Thursday and Friday, Nov. 7-8, 2019
10:00 a.m.-1:10 p.m.
Iowa State Capitol

Students in grades 4 and 5 are invited to see how democracy works, right where it happens. They’ll learn how bills become laws, how laws are interpreted in the courts, and how the Iowa Caucuses shape the nation. Bonus: The program’s guest experts include six of the seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court. The cost is $5 per student and advanced registration is required. The program aligns with Iowa Core Standards, and bus funding can be requested through Field Trip Grants from the Iowa History Center at Simpson College.

History and the Horse Race
Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020
1:00-3:30 p.m.
State Historical Museum of Iowa

Nobody knows who will win the 2020 Iowa Caucuses. But when it comes to predictions, nobody has a better shot than this panel of experts, who will share stories from the past and predictions for the very near future. David Yepsen, host of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” and former political columnist for the Des Moines Register, will moderate a discussion with current and former political-science experts, including: Dianne Bystrom, Steffen Schmidt and Kelly Winfrey (Iowa State University); Dennis Goldford (Drake University), Donna Hoffman (University of Northern Iowa), David Redlawsk (University of Delaware, visiting the University of Iowa) and Peverill Squire (University of Missouri). The panel will start with an hour of Iowa Caucus history, from 1 to 2 p.m., and conclude with an analysis of the current field of candidates, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. During intermission, guests can enjoy refreshments and explore the museum’s “First in the Nation” exhibition.

History on the Rocks: Caucus and Cocktails
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020
5:00-7:30 p.m.
State Historical Museum of Iowa

Just 10 days before the official Iowa Caucuses, why not warm up with a practice session just for fun? Guests can eat and drink while participating in a mock caucus with an imaginary slate of famous Iowans. Plus, they can explore the museum’s “First in the Nation” exhibition, see a sampling of historic campaign buttons and even make a few their own. Admission is $5, or free with current college ID.

In addition, the "First in the Nation" traveling exhibit will be on display Nov. 1-27 at Drake University's Cowles Library and Jan. 7-30 at the University of Northern Iowa's Rod Library. The traveling exhibit is an extension of the museum exhibit and travels the state to share images, film clips and artifacts that also tell the story of Iowa's unique presidential election process.

The State Historical Museum of Iowa is overseen by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

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.