COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus saw its first butter cow display in two years unveiled Tuesday as the Ohio State Fair prepared to reopen to the public.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the butter sculptures vanishing, along with any gathering beyond the 4-H competitive livestock shows in the two years prior. Before that, however, the butter cows have gone hand in hand with the state fair for over a century in a tradition dating to 1903.

The first butter cow was not its own attraction, but was part of a butter sculpting contest sponsored by the Ohio State University and the Dairy Processors of Ohio, according to the Ohio State Fair. However, when butter distributors A.T. Shelton & Company made a life-size cow out of the product, it became so popular that the fair cemented it as a permanent tradition.

Fast forward to the present, and each year the American Dairy Association Mideast uses over 2,200 pounds of butter past its expiration date, spending around 500 hours working on the sculptures.

Look below for a selection of past butter cows and their accompanying themes from 2019 to 2015.

2019: Apollo 11 moon landing

(Courtesy Photo/American Dairy Association Mideast)

The 2019 butter display honored the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and included sculptures of Neil Armstrong next to the lunar module, the full Apollo 11 crew, the official Apollo 11 patch and the traditional butter cow and calf.

From left to right, Ohio native Neil Armstrong is walking on the moon, saluting the flag. The sculpture next to the geared-up space explorer shows Armstrong with his fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

This display also included the first butter cow and calf sculpture to feature ear tags. One of them reads “Apollo” and the other “11.”

2018: A Christmas Story

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2018’s wide array featured Ralphie in his bunny suit, a Christmas tree decorated with real twinkling lights, Randy in his snowsuit and the iconic leg lamp. The display paid tribute to the movie “A Christmas Story,” which was filmed in Cleveland in 1983.

2017: Salute to chocolate milk

(Courtesy Photo/American Dairy Association Mideast)

The 2017 display saw the traditional cow and calf accompanied by a gigantic chocolate milk bottle, as well as four student-athletes who drink it. The bottle reaffirms this with the Ohio High School Athletic Association logo, which says chocolate milk is the organization’s official beverage.

The athletes in this display showed off weight lifting, soccer, tennis and baseball.

2016: Cleveland Cavaliers take NBA championship

At the 2016 Ohio State Fair, the American Dairy Association Mideast paid tribute to the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. In June, the team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA championship. The display featured the mascot duo Sir C.C. and Moondog, as well as a replica of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

2015: The Ohio State Buckeyes are College Football champions

The Buckeyes got their own tribute in the 2015 butter sculpture display. The American Dairy Association Mideast picked the team for their next project after they won against the Oregon Ducks to take the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship. Included in the sculptures were mascot Brutus Buckeye, coach Urban Meyer and an OSU football helmet.

Years further back

The Ohio State Fair compiled a list of other butter sculptures featured on its grounds in years past. The list does not run in chronological order:

  • 90th anniversary of the ice cream cone
  • A bald eagle
  • A Hasbro Tonka Truck
  • A salute to the armed forces
  • A tribute to Ohio’s dairy farmers
  • A tribute to the Olympics
  • Darth Vader
  • Dave Thomas of Wendy’s
  • Furby
  • Jack Nicklaus
  • John Glenn
  • Mr. Monopoly
  • The Liberty Bell
  • Columbus Bicentennial birthday cake
  • A tribute to the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir
  • A tribute to Ohio symbols