Shake it up – A visit to the Salt and Pepper Shaker Gallery in Traer, Iowa


Dog and cat salt and pepper shakers in baskets
Puppies and kitties. Who can’t love a salt and pepper shaker set like these?

Ruth Rasmussen bought her first salt and pepper shaker set in 1946. On her way out of the Brookfield Zoo, the Traer, Iowa, woman decided to buy the set as a souvenir from her visit to the Chicago-area zoo. More than 70 years and 16,000 salt and pepper shaker sets later, they sit on shelves, allowing the small rural town to proudly display a major tourist attraction…for them. Rasmussen donated her collection to the town, which opened a museum in 2011.

Stepping into the Traer Salt and Pepper Shaker Gallery along Second Street is a special trip. You can see salt and shaker sets that traverse decades, from the 1940s through the early 21st century. They come in all shapes and sizes. From an ink spill set to fruits and vegetables.

Salt and pepper shaker sets in designs as fruits and vegetables.
Salt and pepper shaker sets in designs as fruits and vegetables.

As you meander through the galleries, your eyes constantly move from one salt and pepper shaker set to another. Room after room are filled with shelves featuring the shakers. Most sets are displayed by theme, such as holidays, animals, agriculture, sports, travel and people.

Room with glass-enclosed shelves featuring all types of salt and pepper shaker sets
Hundreds of salt and pepper shakers are on display in each room.

The holiday exhibits feature a lot of Christmas-themed salt and pepper shakers sets. Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, elves, reindeer and more. I especially liked the ones that feature animals in holiday garb, such as cats and dogs.

Mice dressed with stocking caps with a Santa shaker behind them
Christmas-themed salt and pepper shaker sets may be among the most popular at the gallery.

A presidential-themed display features presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama. They can be as basic as a photo painted on a set to salt and pepper shakers in the shape of a bust of a president. Some patriotic shakers come as models of the US capitol or White House, even the Liberty Bell.

Presidential salt and pepper shakers
Presidential salt and pepper shakers.

Some salt and pepper shaker sets offer a military theme, resembling soldiers and equipment, including bullet shells.

Military themed shakers include bullet shapes and military soldiers
Military-themed shakers.

While there are several animal-themed salt and pepper shakers on display, some of my favorites featured farm animals. I appreciate the presentation the museum staff takes with the displays, such as having a chicken shaker set sitting on a small hay bale.

Chicken holder with salt and pepper eggs on the aides
This is one salty chicken.

Americana themes

Beer aficionados will enjoy the beer stein-style shakers. Oktoberfest any day of the week.

Beer-mug salt and pepper shakers
Next round is on Lisa.

The people salt and pepper shakers tend to be on the humorous side. One set included a bride and groom with other shakers set up as wedding guests. One of my favorites was Santa and Mrs. Claus on a chair together.

Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting on a love seat shaker set
Possibly my favorite people shaker set – Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The museum celebrates Americana. Corn stalk shakers, as well as an American Gothic salt and pepper shaker set, can be viewed. That strikes close to Iowans’ hearts as the American Gothic painting was created by Grant Wood, a native of the Cedar Rapids area.

American Gothic replica set
American Gothic.

Of course, since we have a passion for traveling, we enjoyed the shakers in that category. Salt and pepper shaker sets are displayed with state names and symbols painted on the sides of containers, shapes of attractions, as well as in each state’s shape.

Map of the United States repsented by each state as a salt and pepper shaker set
The United States as salt and pepper shaker sets.

With so many to choose from, how do you pick a favorite? That was tough. For Lisa, it’s anything in the cat family – big or domesticated. For me, it was a bit tougher. I would have to go with the sports-themed salt and pepper shakers, especially the footballs and players.

Football and football player shaker sets
Sports shaker sets.

The museum attracts about 1,000 visitors annually to the town of 1,600, about 20 miles south of Waterloo. In addition, visitors are encouraged to check out the spiral staircase at the town’s old newspaper office. Consisting of 23 steps, the freestanding staircase makes 1 ½ revolutions. It features a suspended catwalk at the top. The cat walk is inaccessible for safety reasons.

The Winding Stairs, located a couple blocks from the museum.
The Winding Stairs, located a couple blocks from the museum.

We enjoyed spending about an hour at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Gallery. You could spend several hours there exploring each set. We recommend visiting the gallery. The $3 admission is a great deal.

For additional information on the Salt and Pepper Shaker Gallery, as well as other area attractions, please visit