It's hard to believe that fireworks in the state of Iowa have only been legal to buy and use for just 6 years. Before that, it was against the law for Iowans to sell or use fireworks for almost 80 years.

The craziest part is that just one incident in one small Iowa town was the reason the firework ban was instituted across the Hawkeye State. How bad could that incident have been to make fireworks illegal in Iowa for almost 8 decades? Pretty bad.


One small sparkler sparked an explosion that set an entire downtown Iowa town on fire. That incident is why fireworks were illegal in Iowa starting before World War II.

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Iowa's 79-Year Ban On Fireworks

It was 92 years ago today that a terrible fire took place in the Iowa town of Spencer. It didn't help that the weather was hot even for an Iowa summer, according to Jeff Stein and the Iowa Almanac. The temperature in Spencer in northwest Iowa topped off at 97°. The lack of recent rain made things dry, as well.

The story goes that there was a large fireworks display in the front window of Bjornstad's Drugstore at the corner of Fourth and Main, downtown. A little boy took an interest in the display, which was not uncommon. What happened next was quite uncommon.

Maxim Petrichuk
Maxim Petrichuk

No one to this day is sure what happened, but somehow a lit sparkler was dropped on the fireworks display. That led to an explosion that literally set downtown Spencer on fire. The heat, drought, and high winds that day fanned the flames that consumed two and a half blocks of the business district.

More than 50 buildings were soon reduced to rubble, with damage estimated at $1.2 million. What's even more surprising is that no lives were lost. Fast forward to a few years later, in 1938, the Iowa legislature banned the sale and private use of fireworks.

When Spencer's business owners decided to rebuild, they opted for a theme of art deco and mission revival styles for most of the new buildings. As a result, Miami, Florida is the only city in the country with a larger art deco presence in its commercial buildings.

Iowa Legalizes Fireworks

The ban on fireworks in Iowa went into effect on January 1, 1938. On May 9, 2017, almost 80 years later, the Iowa legislature lifted the statewide ban on fireworks legalizing the sale and private use of them.

Colorful fireworks of various colors over evening sky

While counties and municipalities are allowed to set their own rules on when residents can use and buy them, the state of Iowa allows fireworks to be sold from June 1st to July 8th and December 10th through January 3rd every year.

You can hear the full story from Jeff Stein in today's Iowa Almanac. You can hear the Iowa Almanac on weekday mornings at 5:45 a.m. on B100.

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