What Is the State Song of Iowa?

Marlene Garcia

The Iowa Legislature officially adopted the state song of Iowa in 1911, making “The Song of Iowa” a state symbol. In 1897, Samuel Hawkins Marshall Byers wrote the lyrics, based on the traditional German folksong, “O, Tannenbaum.” Residents unofficially adopted another state song of Iowa that might be more popular and better known. “The Corn Song” employs a rousing chorus proclaiming, “That’s where the tall corn grows,” usually sung with hands held high.

Cornfields are part of Iowa's pride.
Cornfields are part of Iowa's pride.

Byers wrote the state song of Iowa after spending seven months in a Confederate prison camp during the Civil War. He said he was captured at the Battle of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and taunted by Rebel troops who marched by singing “O, Maryland.” Byers vowed to pen a song for Iowa using the same tune. He later wrote the song, which was performed in a Des Moines opera house the following day.

Sunsets are mentioned in Iowa's state song, "The Song of Iowa."
Sunsets are mentioned in Iowa's state song, "The Song of Iowa."

The first stanza of the state song refers to the Midwestern state as the fairest of all and a poet’s dream. It continues by mentioning the cornfields, shining prairies, and sunsets, calling the state a paradise. The song ends by encouraging residents to learn the state’s history and remember its patriotic sons who died in battle.

In contrast, the unofficial state song of Iowa appears less serious, referring to the state as I-O-Way. Many lines end with, “Yo-ho, yo-ho, yo-ho.” Iowans typically enjoy the energetic feel of this song about the state’s main crop.

“The Corn Song” was written by George Hamilton in 1912. He was a community leader in the Chamber of Commerce and Masonic Lodge. After Hamilton traveled to California for a Shriners' convention, he apparently saw the need for a state song of Iowa suitable for a marching band. He collaborated with band leader John T. Beeston to write the song to the tune of “Traveling.”

Called the Hawkeye State and the Corn State, Iowa’s flag contains red, white, and blue vertical stripes, with the image of a bald eagle on the white section. The state’s motto, “Our liberty we prize, our rights we will maintain,” appears on a streamer under the eagle. Iowa became the 29th state in 1846.

Other state symbols include the eastern goldfinch as the state bird, the wild prairie rose as the state flower, and the northern red oak as the state tree. Iowa’s unofficial state fish is the channel catfish. In addition to corn, Iowa is a major producer of soybeans, oats, cattle, and pigs.

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Discussion Comments


@jcraig - To be totally honest I feel like the so called hokie sounding songs do depict the state's culture very well.

Although the official state song is a very good serious song written with quite a hit of historical significance that doe snot mean that it is the best song to depict the nature of the state of Iowa.

I am fine with the official state song, but feel like the other unofficial state songs are celebrated for a reason because people like them and think of Iowa in a great light each and every time they are sung or heard.

If these Hokie songs were seen as inappropriate for depicting Iowans, Iowans themselves would hate them and not be as acceptive of them


@kentuckycat - I have to agree with you on that and I am absolutely glad that they picked a state song that actually means something as opposed to the other choices.

The other songs, which are recognized as the unofficial state songs, I find to be fairly hokie and not something that should be picked as a state song.

An official state song should be something that is fairly serious and allows for someone to be able to recognize the state's culture and history as well as allow for a resident to embrace the nature of the song.

A simple song that is a bit of a fun rallying cry is not appropriate to be a state song and I am glad they settled on one that was written by an Iowan that actually had Iowan pride while writing the official state song.


@TreeMan - I absolutely agree with you. To think that a proud Iowa resident wrote such a culturally significant song to the state while being held prisoner in a Civil War Prison Camp allows for the song to actually mean something and allow for residents to know the song is significant in the eyes of Iowan history.

Like the Iowa state bird or flower the state song is supposed to depict a culturally significant item to the state and for the residents to look at something sponsored by the state as something that actually relates to the state.

I feel the state song is appropriate in this regard and feel like it is quite a good state song compared to other official state songs.


I love it that the state of Iowa actually incorporates culture of the state into their song as well as a great message.

The state of Iowa is a unique state and deserves a state song that expresses the culture of the state in a way that it is both a worthy song to represent the state as well as a song that people will associate with Iowa.

I feel like this is a very appropriate song to express the the feelings and culture of the state of Iowa and there is a whole lot of history and charm in the creation of the song itself for it to be a very historical and cultural song.

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