The ‘M’ in Midwest Stands for Massive Food Sculptures

Roadside green giants, 3,000 pound concrete eggs and a 43,000-square-foot corn palace; although peculiarities on their own, they are part of a greater pattern of giant food-related fixtures in the Midwest. But why exactly are there so many larger-than-life culinary sculptures in this region? Cover graphic by Ruth Chang for Midstory.

The Heartland, Flyover Country, the Rust Belt — to the Midwest’s long list of monikers one could also add “The Land of Massive Food Sculptures.” From Indiana’s mega egg to Iowa’s giant strawberry, Middle America is a land filled and flowing with large food-related fixtures, many of which can be admired from afar on cross-country highway drives. 

According to food historian and author Cynthia Clampitt, the reasoning for these peculiar geographic markers can be summarized with two words: “identity and advertising.” 

“It’s basically ‘This is who we are’ or ‘Come and stop and buy something from us,’” she said. 

Christine Henry, associate professor of Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington, noted that the rise of giant roadside food sculptures as a marketing medium stemmed from changes in America’s transportation infrastructure. 

The assurgence of highways during the mid-20th century made cars the premium mode of travel instead of trains, Henry explained. As more people populated the roads, rural towns across America looked for ways to attract passing travelers.

“If someone is traveling on their way to Yosemite, they’re going to need to stop and have lunch. They’re going to need lodging and that kind of thing. So a lot of [attractions] appear in that era when people are trying to engage the public along the roadside,” she said. 

These marketing schemes of the past have left the Midwest with a collection of peculiar landmarks. Some still serve their original purpose, pulling in fans of enlarged roadside attractions, while others sit abandoned as little more than a nod to the past. 

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

World’s Largest Strawberry (Strawberry Point, Iowa)

Such is the case for the World’s Largest Strawberry in Strawberry Point, Iowa. The 15-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture was built in the 1960s by a local advertising agency to market Strawberry Point and place it on the map. 

The sculpture, however, has little to do with the town besides its name; the town’s main agricultural industry is dairying and whole milk processing. The name itself originates from the 1840s when early settlers noticed the abundance of wild strawberries growing on the land Strawberry Point sits on today. 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Jolly Green Giant (Blue Earth, Minnesota)

Blue Earth, Minnesota also took a gargantuan approach to attracting visitors, this time in the form of a 55.5-foot-tall smiling green giant.

According to Clampitt, the extravagant size of some roadside attractions can be attributed to the lay of Midwestern land. In such a famously flat and wide topography, making any advertisement stand out is key. 

“A lot of big stuff in the Midwest is because you can see it from a distance,” Clampitt said. “If you’re going to advertise, you need to get that message out there. There’s pretty much two ways to do it, and one of them is [to make it] really big.” 

The Jolly Green Giant, a colossal replica of the Green Giant Foods’ brand mascot, was commissioned by local radio station owner Paul Hedberg. Hedberg hosted a show featuring interviews of people passing through town. At the end of each conversation, the guest received a can of Green Giant vegetables from a nearby factory.

When Hedberg learned that a new stretch of interstate would pass by Blue Earth, he ran around asking for funds and in three days raised $50,000 to build the Jolly Green Giant. Since then, residents have created an accompanying Jolly Green Giant museum and established an annual Giant Days festival complete with a parade and fireworks. 

Image courtesy of Skvader via Wikimedia Commons.

Mentone Egg (Mentone, Indiana)

Aside from advertising, the other large intention behind giant food sculptures is identity. In a region known as “America’s Breadbasket,” the colossal fixtures are a means to celebrate civic pride, Henry said. 

“It’s a way to say ‘This is what we’re known for,’ and ‘This is who we are,’” she said. 

The small town of Mentone, Indiana celebrates its history of egg production with an annual Egg Festival and a 10-foot-tall, 3,000-pound concrete egg. 

The Mentone Egg came about in 1946 thanks to a group of local tradesmen who wanted a giant egg sculpture to advertise their Mentone Egg Show. At present, the egg sits on a strip of donated land, advertising Mentone as the “Egg Basket of the Midwest” on its vast white stomach. 

Image courtesy of Andrew Keith via Wikimedia Commons.

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle (Collinsville, Illinois) 

In some areas, the giant attractions themselves become a part of the community’s identity. Even after the town’s original industry has long passed, residents embrace the representative item as part of their town — a way to memorialize who they once were and mark who they are now.

Collinsville, Illinois, was once home to a manufacturing plant for Brooks Canned Goods, which produced bottles of Brook Original Tangy Catsup. Spicy, sweet and tomato-ey all at once, the condiment was an American favorite

In 1947, the company drafted plans to build a water tower to fuel factory operations, and in honor of their star product, built the tower in the likeness of the famous catsup bottle. Construction finished in 1949, and the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle was born. 

In 1959, catsup production moved to Indiana, leaving the water tower without purpose. By then, however, the structure had become a staple of the town’s identity. A Catsup Bottle Preservation Group prevented the tower’s destruction after Brooks Foods left town, and in the 1990s, thousands of volunteers raised $80,000 to restore the landmark to its former glory. Today, the World’s Largest Bottle of Catsup holds fast to its title at 170 feet tall, and boasts its own official website and fan club. 

Image courtesy of Jared Winkler via Wikimedia Commons.

World’s Largest Swedish Coffee Pot (Stanton, Iowa)

Elsewhere in Iowa, another water tower commemorates a different town’s claim to fame. Stanton, Iowa is the birthplace of actress Virginia Christine, well known for her role as Mrs. Olson in Folgers brand coffee commercials. Christine owned her role for over 20 years, always appearing at the right time to solve a couple’s dispute over bad tasting coffee with a can of Folgers. 

The town decorated its water tower into an enormous Swedish coffee pot in 1970, both to celebrate its Swedish roots and to pay homage to the Hollywood darling. 19 years later Stanton built the World’s Largest Swedish Coffee Cup to accompany its water tower landmark.

The coffee pot now sits at ground level after the tower was deemed a liability in 2014. Nonetheless, the cup remains functional today, fully capable of holding 150,000 gallons of water or dishing out 2.4 million cups of coffee. 

Image courtesy of Visit Charlevoix.

World’s Largest (and Second-largest) Cherry Pies (Traverse, Michigan and Charlevoix, Michigan)

Michigan is home to two world-class mammoth cherry pies. Charlevoix, Michigan was the first to claim the “World’s Largest” title in 1976 when an ambitious baker convinced local artisans to create a monstrous cherry pie to celebrate the town’s bicentennial. The pie (weighing 17,420 pounds), its giant pan and the giant oven it was baked in were unveiled at the town’s annual cherry festival. 

Charlevoix only held on to the title of “World’s Largest” for 11 years. In 1987, Chef Pierre Bakeries concocted an even larger pie and pan in Traverse, Michigan, the annual host of the National Cherry Festival. Traverse knocked its neighbor out of the park with a pie that was 17 feet and 6 inches in diameter and weighed a whopping 28,350 pounds. 

In 1990, a small town in British Columbia baked a 39,683 pound pie, ensuring that neither town would hold the title of World’s Largest Cherry Pie, but the once record-breaking pie pans and their accompanying memorials are on display in both towns. 

Image courtesy of Visit Dublin, Ohio.

Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges) (Columbus, Ohio)

No talk of the Midwest’s food items is complete without mentioning the region’s favorite crop. From 50-foot corn gazebos to an entire palace dedicated to the vegetable, the numerous humungo-sized corn fixtures add some visual reinforcement to the Midwest’s nickname, the “Corn Belt.” 

109 white corn statuettes populate an ex-cornfield in Columbus, Ohio. The sculptures are partially dedicated to Sam Frantz, the land’s previous farmer and a leader in corn hybridization. 

The artist, Malcolm Cochran, used three different molds with varying kernel patterns and angled each statue in a different direction so that every ear appeared unique. According to Cochran, “Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges)” represents the passing of an agrarian way of life and rebirth of society. Now, it is used mostly as a popular photo spot.

Image courtesy of the Olivia Area Chamber of Commerce.

The World’s Largest Ear of Corn (Olivia, Minnesota)

The World’s Largest Ear of Corn flies solo in Olivia, Minnesota. The 25-foot-tall corn monument sits roadside along Highway 212 atop a gazebo, welcoming travelers to the number one corn and soybean production county in Minnesota. 

Olivia’s dependable weather conditions and rich soil provide the perfect conditions for seed research, making the town a hotspot for agricultural innovation. The rural town of less than 2,500 people is home to nine seed research companies, two seed production companies, an agricultural environmental solutions company and the world’s largest seed corn broker. All of this has earned Olivia the title “Corn Capital of Minnesota.”

Image courtesy of Skvader via Wikimedia Commons.

World’s Only Corn Palace (Mitchell, South Dakota)

The world’s only corn palace lies not in South Dakota’s capital, but in the sixth-most populous city in the state: Mitchell, home to around 16,500 people. The town built its first palace in 1892 as a place local farmers could celebrate their agricultural achievements for the year. Back then, multiple corn palaces were sprinkled across South Dakota and even into Nebraska and Iowa. As time passed, they fell away, leaving Mitchell’s Corn Palace as the only one of its kind in the world.

Far from declining, the South Dakotan kernel castle has grown both in size and purpose. The 43,000-square-foot building now serves as the town’s community center, hosting banquets, basketball games, industrial exhibitions, school dances and graduations. The town as whole leans into its overall corniness – the local high school team is called the Kernels, their mascot’s name is Cornelius and every year students from nearby Dakota Wesleyan University redesign the building’s enormous murals using colored corn from local farmers. 


The lineup of giant food sculptures across the Midwest began with a business-oriented intention. But as the times and the fabric of America changed, so did the role of these midwestern fixtures. Now, the statues reflect the agricultural centerpiece of the Midwest’s identity, as well as how tightly and proudly its communities hold on to it. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Having lived in central OH for 40+ years, I’m certainly aware of the Field of Corn and Frantz Rd. This is the first I’ve ever read of Sam Frantz. Interesting stuff.
    At one time, Red Gold painted its water tower to be a tomato (IN).

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here