By Nancy Wiley
In the free-wheeling years after World War II, merchants in Kerens, Texas, had a problem. Residents of the tiny town were driving to nearby Corsicana or even 75 miles north to Dallas for pre-Christmas shopping sprees. Looking for a gimmick that might encourage people to spend money at local stores, the Kerens Chamber of Commerce built what they claimed was the world’s largest Santa Claus, a 49-foot-tall figure constructed from iron-pipe drill casing and papier-mâché, with seven-foot lengths of unraveled rope for a beard.
The promotion proved a big success during the 1949 holidays, but the novelty wore off the following year, and community support waned. In 1951, State Fair president R.L. Thornton purchased Santa’s components for $750 and hired Dallas artist Jack Bridges to create a giant cowboy out of the material.
Big Tex made his debut at the 1952 State Fair of Texas. Wearing size 70 boots and a 75-gallon hat, Tex towered 52 feet above wide-eyed visitors. His denim jeans and plaid shirt were donated by the H.D. Lee Company of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. Cosmetic surgery the following year straightened his nose, corrected a lascivious wink, and allowed him to talk.
From the December 2004 issue.