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Big Tex 101: Look Back At State Fair Of Texas Icon's Early Years

Big Tex, the beloved State Fair of Texas icon, returns to Fair Park Sept. 27 -- next Friday.

(If you’ve been under a rock lately, the big guy burned down last October in spectacular fashion, attracting national headlines.)

Before Big Tex makes his triumphant return, we’re going to offer a daily online look at All Things Big Tex each day until next Friday.

Programming note: Eric Aasen, KERA's digital news editor who's a Big Tex expert, will talk about Big Tex around 12:20 p.m. today on KERA's "Anything You Ever Wanted To Know" with host Jeff Whittington. That's on KERA Radio, 90.1 FM. 

OK, back to Big Tex 101. First off, a history lesson. Impress your friends with all of these Big Tex tidbits. And take a look at the slideshow.

1949: Before Big Tex was Big Tex, he was the world's largest Santa Claus in Kerens in Navarro County. The mastermind behind Santa was Howell Brister, manager of the Kerens Chamber of Commerce. He was trying to get people to shop in his town. The town rallied behind his idea and helped make Santa. Brister’s plan worked. Santa was a hit the first year and again in 1950.

1951: Brister sold the Santa to the State Fair of Texas for $750. Fair officials initially planned to place the Santa in Fair Park for the holidays. Then they decided on a cowboy. State Fair officials have long credited R.L. "Bob" Thornton, the State Fair president who later became Dallas mayor, with the Big Tex concept.

1952: The fair chooses a Dallas artist and set designer, Jack Bridges, to transform Santa into a friendly cowboy. He gave Big Tex a bigger head and broader shoulders. H.D. Lee Co. donated denim jeans and a plaid shirt.

October 1952:  Big Tex goes up for the first time. Jack Bridges, who made the big cowboy, used a 35-ton crane with a 75-foot boom to dress Tex. Big Tex becomes a big hit.

1953:  Big Tex got his first nose job – his original nose was too long. He got an eyelift, too. One of his eyes had been closed during the ’52 fair. And Big Tex found his voice.

1961: Strong winds from Hurricane Carla rips off Big Tex’s shirt.

1962: A star is born: Big Tex is featured in the musical “State Fair” with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret. OK, everyone sing! “Our state fair is a great state fair …”

That's it for this edition of Big Tex 101. Tune in tomorrow for another installment.

Sources: State Fair of Texas, The Dallas Morning News archives, KERA research.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.