Folks attending the Ohio State Fair are amazed at the Butter Cow display that’s sculpted each year in recognition of Ohio’s dairy industry. What many Delaware County fair-goers may not know is the Butter Cow was born in Sunbury.
In the early 1900s, The Ohio State University and the Dairy Processors of Ohio sponsored butter-sculpting contests at the Ohio State Fair. The subjects of the contests were not restricted to specific things.
In 1903, the first butter cow was featured at the Ohio State Fair, sculpted by A.T. Shelton & Company, distributors of Sunbury Co-Operative Creamery butter. That 1903 cow became the first of a yearly treat for visitors to the fair.
In the 1920s, a calf joined the cow and the two have appeared every year since. Today there’s even an online contest to name them.
It takes 2,000 pounds of butter to make the cow, calf and other sculptures in each year’s cholesterol-rich work of art.
The 2015 display features the butter cow and calf standing next to life-size sculptures of Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer and mascot Brutus Buckeye, along with larger-than-life carvings of the national championship trophy and two Ohio State football helmets.
“Butter is an easy medium to work with, but some people don’t like it because of its greasiness,” said one of the current team of butter sculptors, Paul Brooke, in a July Ohio Magazine article. “Plus, you have to be in a cooler to do it.”
Brooke, from Cincinnati, is a former toy model sculptor for Kenner Products and Hasbro toy companies. Others members of the current butter-sculpting team are Alex Balz, Tammy Buerk and Erin Swearingen.
“Butter us slathered over frameworks of mesh, chicken wire or wood,” Brooke said. “But in the cow’s case it’s a steel frame with an adjustable neck so the cow’s head can move to a different position each year.”
This year’s Butter Cow display was completed in 500 hours, which includes about 400 hours of sculpting inside a 46-degree cooler.
Today, a large portion of the butter is donated by Dairy Farmers of America Mideast. They use butter that has an expired use-by date.
The butter cow and sculpture are located in the Dairy Products Building at the Ohio Expo Center. The Dairy Products Building is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunbury Creamery became Nestles Beverage Co. in 1919. Nestles invented the first instant food, Nescafe, in 1939 at the Sunbury plant; and later the same plant invented Nestea, adding it to the Nestle product line in 1946.
In 1981, a $27 million, five-story addition for a natural decaffeination plant was built in Sunbury. The plant removed 2,500 pounds of caffeine daily from a million pounds of coffee beans and sold it to Coca-Cola for use in soft drinks, and caffeine became the plant’s new primary product.
Nestles and Hills Company merged in May 1991 and became the Nestles/Hills Brothers Coffee Co. and then the Nestle Beverage Co. Unfortunately, decaffeinated coffee lost popularity and it was announced in 1993 that the Sunbury Nestle plant would close.
At the time it stopped production, Nestles was responsible for 32 percent of Sunbury’s village income tax, 40 percent of the village’s water plant fees, and owned 250 acres of land.
The main body of the Nestle building had become an eyesore in recent years; in August 2011 it was demolished. All that remains is a water tower and a single-story complex used for light manufacturing purposes.
For more information about the Nestle Beverage Co. in Sunbury, go to the Big Walnut Area Historical Society website at < bigwalnuthistory.org >, click Local History, scroll down to Businesses, and then click Nestles Beverage Co.
For more information about the 2015 Ohio State Fair Butter Cow, go to the American Dairy Association Mideast website at < drink-milk.com >.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093