If you find yourself driving along Route 66, chances are you'll stumble upon a host of quirky roadside attractions and landmarks. But none are quite as unique and downright odd as the Muffler Men. These towering fiberglass figures, with their distinctive poses and individual features, have become an iconic part of the cultural landscape of the Mother Road. And their history is a fascinating one that stretches back over half a century.
It all began in the early 1960s when a company called International Fiberglass, based in sunny Venice, California, started crafting colossal fiberglass statues for businesses and attractions. These statues, ranging in size from 10 to 30 feet tall, quickly became a hit due to their durability and customizability. Business owners across the country began commissioning Muffler Men to advertise their products and services, and soon the statues became an ubiquitous feature of American roadside culture.
The company was founded by a chap called Steve Dashew, who saw the potential of fiberglass as a versatile and hard-wearing material for creating large, eye-catching figures for businesses and attractions. The first Muffler Man was a giant Paul Bunyan statue commissioned in the mid-1960s to advertise the Lumberjack Cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a roaring success, and soon other businesses and attractions wanted their own custom Muffler Men. These statues took on a multitude of forms, from cowboys and Indians to spacemen and aliens.
The Muffler Men rapidly became an integral part of American roadside culture, symbolizing the country's love for the open road and captivating the attention of passing motorists. Many businesses and attractions used these statues as a way to entice visitors and create a memorable roadside experience.
Over time, the Muffler Men changed and developed. In the 1970s, International Fiberglass created a new line of statues called Uniroyal Gals. These featured a female figure holding a tire and were used to advertise Uniroyal Tires at gas stations and tire shops across the nation.
However, the Muffler Men's popularity waned in the 1980s, and many were destroyed or lost. International Fiberglass went bankrupt in 1983, and a great number of statues began to fall into disrepair or were sold off to private collectors. But recently, there's been a renewed interest in these American giants, and steps have been taken to preserve and restore the remaining statues, thanks largely to their connection with Route 66.
One organization leading the charge is the American Giants, a non-profit devoted to safeguarding the history and legacy of the Muffler Men. Founded in 2013, the group has worked to restore several Muffler Men, including the original Paul Bunyan statue in Flagstaff, Arizona. In addition to preserving existing statues, the American Giants have also commissioned new Muffler Men. In fact, as reported by Route 66 News, in the summer of 2023 there is to be an all-new American Giants Museum opening in Atlanta, Illinois!
Today, the Muffler Men of Route 66 remain a cherished part of the Mother Road's cultural landscape. These statues are adored by both locals and tourists and continue to attract visitors from around the world who want to experience the unique cultural heritage of the Mother Road.
If you're heading east to west, you can catch a glimpse of the following Muffler Men in all their glory: