The 55-foot Big Tex is on his way to his roost at the State Fair of Texas just east of the number one Fletcher’s Corny Dog stand in Big Tex Circle. This year Tex’ boots were fashioned by Lucchese Bootmaker and were designed by Big Tex Boot Design Contest winner Jessica Bonilla.
Tex has a long and lustrous history dating back to 1952 in Kerens, Texas. The statue was an idea of Howell Brister, manager of the Chamber of Commerce, to encourage holiday sales in the town, and the “World’s Largest Santa Claus” stood over Colket Avenue for two holiday seasons — drawing press attention from as far away as Iran and Australia.
After two seasons the excitement over the statue faded, and Kerens offered it up for sale. In 1951, State Fair president R. L. Thornton purchased Santa’s components for $750 and had artist Jack Bridges transform them into a cowboy, giving birth to “Big Tex.” Bridges used a photograph of his own face, a photograph of rancher Doc Simmons and a photograph of Will Rogers to create the new look.
A 12-foot-tall, 19-foot-long plastic model of a Hereford steer (called “The Champ”) accompanied Big Tex for the 1956 fair, but Big Tex was primarily displayed alone. During the 1950s Big Tex underwent further re-design, replacing the papier mache “skin” with fiberglass. The original head was put into storage and later sold at auction in 1993 to a Dallas collector which may be viewed during Christmas in University Park along with the most lights you will likely find at a home Christmas light display. The head was purchased by Wayne Smith for $1300.
On the morning of October 19, 2012, (the final weekend of the 2012 State Fair of Texas, and on Big Tex’s 60th birthday) a fire started inside the framework of Big Tex. The figure’s clothing, face, and hat were completely destroyed in minutes as onlookers watched. An official investigation determined that the fire started in an electrical panel under the attraction’s right boot. This panel was believed to have powered the air compressor that kept the clothing of the statue inflated. CraveDFW was on the scene at that time and was the first to announce the tragedy.
Big Tex welcomes fairgoers with his friendly drawl of “HOOOOOOWDEEEEE, FOOOOOOLKS!!!” and makes regular announcements throughout the duration of the State Fair of Texas. His booming voice has been played by only a few men over six decades, who perform every day of the fair from a booth known as the “doghouse.”
Al Jones, a disc jockey for WRR FM 101.1, was the first voice of Big Tex, but would fill the role for only one season. Radio announcer Jim Lowe, the most well-known voice of Big Tex, began performing his voice in 1953, he continued to provide his voice for twenty-eight years until he departed from the role in 1981. When you do your own Big TEx voice it is Lowe’s that you are most likely impersonating. And what self-respecting Texas doesn’t do a rendition of Big Tex?
Today, Tex stepped up into his place at the 2023 State Fair which officially opens on September 29th and runs through October 22nd. We will periodically be giving our take on this year’s activities, especially the food. See you there!