© 2021 Boise State Public Radio
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

Idahoans And Iowans Join Forces To End State Mix-Up

Flickr Creative Commons
Both agricultural states, Idaho is known for potato production while Iowa is known for its corn.

Idaho and Iowa are, in fact, two different states, and entrepreneurs, writers and creative-types want the world to learn the difference. (Take our quiz to see how well you know Idaho and Iowa.)

It turns out, people have been confusing Idaho and Iowa for quite some time. At least since the 1980s, when Idaho journalist and author Tim Woodward got a letter from a woman explaining her Idaho-Iowa mix-up. Woodward says he wrote about it, and letters from other readers started pouring in.

"At one point, the file weighed five pounds of unused material," he says. By the early 1990s Woodward had enough Idaho-Iowa fodder for a book.

Woodward has documented national broadcasters making the mistake on live television.

"In a golden moment from his reporting days, NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw ended a newscast with a panoramic sweep of the Boise front and the words 'this is Tom Brokaw, reporting from Boise, Iowa,'" Woodward reads from his book. 

We're the huge corn state, we have more hogs than people. We're not the potato state. - Kyle Munson, Des Moines Register

It should be noted that Brokaw is from the Midwest and spent some time at the University of Iowa.

Woodward says Deborah Norville made a similar mistake on the Today Show, and this year, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer also confused Idaho with Iowa on live television.

"They’re kind of similar sounding. They both start with "I," they’re both agricultural states. Although, they couldn’t be much more different," says Woodward. "Idaho is one of the most mountainous states in the country. So, they don’t look much alike, but people confuse them all the time, it just never stops."

Woodward says he was always a bit surprised by the eminence of the people making the mistake. He recalls a wedding invitation from the White House that was mailed to Pocatello, Iowa. Just to be clear, Pocatello is in eastern Idaho.

A commercial radio station in Twin Falls, Idaho has teamed up with their sister station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to try and end the misunderstanding with this video that's popping up across social media.

It seems Iowans are fed up too. Columnist with the Des Moines Register, Kyle Munson, says he hears about people making the reverse slip-up.

“We’re the huge corn state, we have more hogs than people," Munson says, "we’re not the potato state.” Munson says Iowa has a long-standing self-esteem issue that he thinks is slowly improving.

“We’re called fly-over country, so there's been this longstanding attitude where all the cultural innovation happens on the coast and people just forget about Iowa and the Midwest,” he says.

Still, Munson says native Iowans are a proud bunch. "They do take offense when we get confused with Idaho, or they lump us in with Illinois, Missouri, it’s common.”

At the very least, the Idaho-Iowa confusion has been a good deal for t-shirt makers. Boise company Fawn and Foal is selling this shirt that shows an outline of Idaho labeled "Iowa." Des Moines shirt maker, Raygun, went a step further hitting on the apparent mix-up among Idaho, Iowa and Ohio.

“[For] people on the coasts, New York, LA, wherever, Iowa might as well be Idaho,” says Munson.

Find Emilie Ritter Saunders on Twitter @emiliersaunders

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio