The Iowa State Fair, which begins on Thursday and runs through Aug. 23, is one of the oldest and most storied state fairs in the country. It is a shining display of the state’s heartland agriculture, with 600-lb. butter-sculpted cows, rows of gleaming yellow corn and livestock judged on the basis of shoulder height, stride length and “attractive rib design.”
LIFE photographer John Dominis attended the fair in its 101st year, 1955, and captured much of what today’s attendees would see too—save for some wardrobe updates. The excitement contained within his Technicolor images was encapsulated by the observation one young visitor made that year. “Except for Christmas,” he said, “it’s the most important thing that happens all year.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.