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Friday, September 28, 2012

Back in the day: Texas State Fair

The State Fair of Texas opens today and runs through October 21. As a kid growing up, one of my favorite days was State Fair Day when there was no school, and we all excitedly piled on a bus for a trip to the fair in Dallas, which wouldn't have been complete without corny dogs, salt water taffy and the Tilt-A-Whirl.

A major attraction then, as now, was Big Tex, the 52-foot tall cowboy that greets visitors as they enter. Big Tex has an interesting history, which I only learned about recently.

In the years following World War II, the businessmen of the small East Texas town of Kerens (pronounced KER ‘nz) were concerned that citizens were driving to nearby Corsicana or even making the 75-mile drive to Dallas to do their Christmas shopping, so in 1949 they came up with the idea to construct a huge Santa Claus to encourage people to spend their money at home. What they came up with was a 49-foot-tall figure constructed from iron pipe drill casing and papier-mâché with 7-foot lengths of unraveled rope for a beard.

The giant Santa worked well that year, but the novelty soon wore off, so in 1951 the State Fair of Texas bought the components for $750 and commissioned artist Jack Bridges to create a giant cowboy out of the material. Big Tex made his debut at the State Fair in 1952. His denim jeans and plaid shirt were donated by the H. D. Lee Company of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. 

Big Tex's debut in 1952

Unfortunately, Tex had a somewhat lascivious expression, a crooked nose and couldn't talk, but that was all corrected before the opening of the 1953 State Fair. He was given the ability to wave in 1997.

Fun Facts about Big Tex

• Who makes the clothes for Big Tex? He's a practical guy who prefers the solid workmanship and comfort offered by Fort Worth's own Williamson-Dickie.

• What size is his shirt? Big Tex has a 30-ft. chest, a 10-ft. neck and shoulders measuring 12-and-a-half feet. His cowboy shirt sleeves measure 15-and-half-feet.

• What about his pants? Tex's waist is a surprisingly trim 23 1/2 feet, and the inseam of his Western-cut jeans measures 15 1/2 feet. Incidentally, Big Tex's pants weigh 80 pounds, and it costs in excess of $300 to clean them.

• Does he change clothes? An outfit typically lasts a couple of seasons. Standing outside for 24-days will take a toll on a fellow's duds.

• What about his hat and boots? He wears a pair of size-70 boots and a 75-gallon cowboy hat.

• What's Big Tex made of? His original body got an extreme makeover in 1997. Underneath those clothes, he sports a cage-like skeleton consisting of 4,200 feet of steel rods that weigh 3 tons.

• What's his most famous quote? "Ho-w-w-w-w-d-e-e-e, Folks! Welcome to the State Fair of Texas!"

• Do people in other places know who Big Tex is? Absolutely. Big Tex has enjoyed local, regional, national and international news coverage. His resume includes film, too. Big Tex 'co-starred' with Ann-Margret in the locally-shot 1962 remake of the movie State Fair.

Fair Park, where the Texas State Fair is held annually, was only half a block away from the original location of Mid2Mod. Our current location at 2928 Main Street is less than a mile away.

From, and The Great State Fair of Texas--An Illustrated History by Nancy Wiley

Big Tex greets fairgoers

Close-up of Big Tex's boots


State Fair corn dogs

For those of you who love watching taffy being made, here's a great video:
apcharles - May 22, 2009


  1. This only makes me want to visit Texas more! salt water taffy really made with salt water? I'm thinking of the gulps of sea water you get when dunked by a huge wave, it can't be the same? :)

    1. Really authentic taffy is sprinkled with sea salt right before the pulling process, but we always just used table salt when we made it at home when I was a kid.

    2. Thanks for the recipe, I might have a go! :)

    3. Teenagers got together for a taffy pull as a form of social activity a generation or two before mine, and my mother let us make taffy occasionally, just for fun. I remember that a bunch of us, as teenagers, got together to give it a try, and I think we made more of a mess than something edible. It is actually a lot of work.

  2. LOVE the State Fair visit. We lived in Sherman TX when I was a kid but I don't recall ever going to any fair. I bet they do all of them up good in Texas.

    1. Yes, it's quite an extravaganza. It's held in 227-acre Fair Park, boasts North America's largest Ferris wheel (the Texas Star, 212 ft tall...the equivalent of 20 stories high...with 44 gondolas that can carry 264 people) and has several million visitors each year.

  3. Big Tex was provably the first Icon I knew and could spot.Dana you also get the "made my mouth drop open" award of the day... I had NO IDEA that "State Fair" was filmed in Texas!!! Granted- I've never really given the 1962 remake a chance as I ADORE the 1945 version and think its under appreciated and perfect. But HOLY COW! I can't even remeber the last time we went to the fair... it may have been in 2000? We went with friends, because their oldest daughter was OBSESSED with "I love Lucy" (and I would follow later) and the "recreated" TV sets from the show were on display. I remember it all in vivd technicolor, right down to the Ivy on the plates. Big Tex has got a lot to smile about!

    1. I didn't know there was a Lucy display at the fair in 2000. How cool is that! I'm so glad you got to see that. I didn't know you were a fan of the original version of State Fair. I'm so glad I could drop that tidbit on you about the remake. :)

      I think the last time I went to the fair was in 2002. What I remember best about last year's fair was how inconvenient it was for our store to be so close to the fair grounds. The entrance to Fair Park is literally half a block from the old store, so there was nowhere to park. Boy, did business suffer, because people were spending all their money on the cotton candy and rides...not furniture...and nobody could have parked within 10 miles of the store, even if they had wanted to buy something.

  4. I'm adding Big Tex to my list (of big things I want to see) x

    1. It's definitely worth seeing. I'm still a little in awe of it. :)