In the free-wheeling years after the war, 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 mache with 7-foot lengths of unraveled rope for a beard.
The promotion was 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′ 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 Great State Fair of Texas – An Illustrated History, by Nancy Wiley.