Big Tex, official greeter, and icon of the State Fair of Texas is known around the globe as the world’s tallest cowboy. The gentle giant has welcomed millions of guests to the annual exposition in Fair Park, but many don’t know his history – who he used to be and how he wound up in Dallas.
Kerens, Texas is known as the "Birthplace of Big Tex", although his original incarnation was as a 49-foot (15 m) tall Santa Claus constructed from iron drill casing, papier mache, and unraveled rope in 1949. 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" (a claim later disputed) stood over Colket Avenue for two holiday seasons — drawing press attention from as far away as Iran and Australia. Modeled after Kerens residents Ottis Franklin Spurlock and Hardy Mayo, the figure was built by members of the community who welded the frame, fabricated the body, and sewed the clothing. 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".