Mobile museum hits the road, packed with centuries of Iowa history

Iowa State University
The State Historical Society of Iowa's "History on the Move" mobile museum will bring its 300-square-foot exhibition called "Iowa's People & Places" to 99 counties across the state.

The State Historical Society of Iowa’s mobile museum hit the road in June, packed with 56 artifacts and a video that explores a collective 13,000 years of Iowa history.

Housed in a custom-built Winnebago, the 300-square-foot museum on wheels launched in 2017 and completed its first 99-county tour in 2019, making 175 stops along the way and attracting nearly 65,000 visitors, including 11,400 students. The current exhibition, “Iowa History 101: Iowa’s People & Places,” debuted last year and will continue its new 99-county journey through 2023.

“Our first tour was a success because we shared an engaging Iowa history experience in towns across the entire state, and Iowans are eager for us to come back with a new exhibition,” State Historical Society of Iowa administrator Susan Kloewer said. “We're grateful to our community hosts and generous sponsors who are helping make this next 99-county tour possible.”

The new exhibition shares stories from Iowa's past with an eclectic array of artifacts from the State Historical Museum of Iowa’s permanent collection, plus a video narrated by WOI-TV host Jackie Schmillen.

Guests will see iconic artifacts that reflect the role of Iowans in state, national and international events including a Meskwaki cradleboard representing the past and continued presence of Native nations in Iowa. They’ll also see women’s suffrage materials from the early 1900s and the pen used by Iowa Governor William Harding to sign Iowa’s resolution in support of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Other artifacts include a menu from a dinner held in Des Moines for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1959, as well as photos of a southeast Asian refugee and Sudanese women in central Iowa, and a flight suit that southern Iowa native and accomplished astronaut Peggy Whitson wore during one of multiple expeditions (totaling 665 days) aboard the International Space Station.

“These images and objects remind us of the role Iowans played in global events,” State Curator Leo Landis said. “It’s easy to overlook the significant contributions Iowans have made in promoting equality and liberty, but this exhibit can inspire all Iowans to understand and appreciate Iowa’s past and promote these values.”

EMC Insurance Companies sponsored the first tour and renewed its support for the new exhibition.

"EMC Insurance Companies has deep roots in Iowa,” Beth Nigut, EMC executive vice president, 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 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 care deeply about history and 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 their local schools, libraries, 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:

  • June 2: Mason City, Preserve Iowa Summit.
  • June 4: Denmark, Heritage Days.
  • June 7-9: Sac City, Sac City Public Library.
  • June 11: Jefferson, Bell Tower Festival.
  • June 14-16: Sumner, Sumner Public Library.
  • June 17-19: Adair, Adair Sesquicentennial.
  • June 24-26: Fairfax, Fairfax USA Days.
  • June 30: Chariton, Farmers Market.
  • July 3-4: Davenport, Red, White and Boom!
  • July 7-9: Jesup, Farmers Days.
  • July 15-17: Miles, Great River Threshers Celebration.
  • July 20-23: Sibley, Sibley Sesquicentennial & Osceola County Fair.
  • Sept. 3: Okoboji, Dee’s Bee & Butterfly Festival.
  • Sept. 4: Sheldon, Celebration Days.
  • Sept. 17: Osage, Cedar River Rendezvous.
  • Sept. 24-25: Kalona, Fall Festival.
  • Oct. 14-16: Keosauqua, Scenic Drive Festival.

More details are available at iowaculture.gov. Iowans can also follow the mobile museum's statewide journey on Facebook at facebook.com/IowaHistory.