The Muffler Men
The heyday of Route 66 came after World War II, when Americans, with cars in their garages, were looking for somewhere to go. With so many mobile customers, small businesses all along the Route tried to find ways to attract their attention and get them to stop–hopefully to spend money once they’d parked. One way to do that was to plant a giant in front of their business.
So-called “muffler men” became these advertising icons. Originally designed for a muffler company, the hands of the fiberglass giants are one hand held palm up, the other palm down, the better to showcase the mufflers.
But these giants were pressed into service to hold other items, like hot dogs or rocket ships. The hands might not exactly fit, but no one seemed to notice. Other businesses began to use their own giants based on the muffler men, but not made by the same company. Carl the Giant, for example, in Normal, IL, with his jaunty cap and welcoming smile, encourages everyone to stop for ice cream, because, as the marquee at the roadside says, “Life is better with sprinkles.”
Lincoln (Of course. We’re still in Illinois.)
The Railsplitter at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, is meant to be a very skinny Abe Lincoln (unlike the very buff muffler men), and he welcomes visitor to the beautiful fairgrounds.
For reasons only known to the designer, a more mature Lincoln has been drafted to helm “the world’s largest covered wagon” in Lincoln, IL.
And one woman
We’ve only found one female giant, that one at the Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Staunton, IL. She’s been dressed up with a blue skirt, and a Route 66 apron, but I suspect she may have started life as a car hop. (Anyone remember those?)
We’ve had fun tracking them down. And there are a few more left to find. I’ll post them here, when we find them.
P.S. Kat and Tish encounter a muffler man and his smaller, but no less impressive cousins, in Wilmington. Kat is enchanted by them. Tish is simply amused. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, see Chapter 25 of The Illinois Caper at The Route 66 Steal.
Lori Murphy ColeJune 15, 2022 at 8:04 am
ZippyJune 15, 2022 at 3:54 pm
I think I saw a giant prairie dog near Wounded Knee a couple of years ago. So much plaster.