It all started with a coffee mug from Target.
I had no idea who Tall Paul or the Gemini Giant were, I just thought the mug was neat. I like retro and vintage stuff, and the mug reminded me of the always cool 1950s atomic age.
Here I was, drinking coffee out of that mug for a couple of years before I finally asked, “Who are these guys, anyway?”
No, it wasn’t a design that Target just pulled out of thin air. As it turns out, they exist — and you can go see them.
The Origins of These Fiberglass Giants
Tall Paul and the Gemini Giant are what are known as Muffler Men. They are massive fiberglass characters, standing up to 25 feet tall, that once lined Route 66.
In an era before simple two-lane highways were bypassed by freeways, Route 66 was lined with motels, restaurants, and gas stations. With all that competition, these businesses needed a way to stand out.
The very first large figure made was a giant Paul Bunyan, created in 1962 for the Paul Bunyan Cafe on Route 66 in Arizona. From there, International Fiberglass Company made thousands of oversized figures in just a little over a decade. It was an invasion of giants!
Many of these larger-than-life figures were created from the same basic mold — the one used to make the original Paul Bunyan statue. Many of the statues had the same position, with the right palm up and left palm down, because this is how the original Bunyan held his axe. From there, various fiberglass molds allowed for different heads, torsos, or limbs to create different characters.
Many figures wound up holding big car mufflers, and that’s how they got their nickname.
The Muffler Man’s Friends
There were other figures, too. As the fiberglass giants grew in popularity, big companies wanted big figures, too. Phillips 66 had the Cowboy, Sinclair had a dinosaur, A&W Burgers had an entire Burger Family, and there were giant chickens and other animals for specialty restaurants.
Texaco commissioned 300 “Big Friends” to tie into an ad campaign, but within a couple of years, they ordered station owners to stop using them and have them destroyed. Out of the 300 that were produced, only a handful are known to still exist.
Of course, ladies were also invited to the party. Miss Uniroyal was another fiberglass giant created by International Fiberglass Company. According to the company’s owner, there were two versions of her. They came with a dress that you could take off, and there was a bikini underneath for the more… adventurous business owner.
The Muffler Men (and Friends) That Still Exist Today
These days, many of the Muffler Men that stood over Route 66 have vanished. Since Route 66’s decommissioning, many of these giants have been taken down. Fortunately, there are some that have survived, and are still standing by for photo opportunities.
Among those still existing stands Tall Paul and the Gemini Giant. Though they stand next to each other on my coffee mug, they’re not side-by-side in real life.
Tall Paul once held his hotdog in front of (you guessed it) a hotdog stand on Route 66 in Cicero, Illinois. This giant Muffler Man now stands over Atlanta, Illinois, still an attraction along Route 66.
The Gemini Giant towers above a restaurant called the Launching Pad in Wilmington, Illinois — the same spot he’s always been. Named for the Gemini Project, a NASA space program in the ‘60s, this guy capitalized on the Space Age boom at the time. He’s swapped the oversized Bunyan axe for a silver spaceship, and he sports a space helmet.
While many of the original fiberglass Muffler Men didn’t survive, there are still plenty to see across the United States. Although some are still located along Route 66, there are also plenty in various other locations. You may even have a few in your own home state — I know I do!
So, how do you know where to look?
How to Find Muffler Men
Luckily for anyone curious to see these giants in real life, Roadside America has done the leg work for us. They’ve spent years keeping a map on their website that marks all known Muffler Man locations in the U.S. There are even a few in Canada and Puerto Rico. And while I’m sure there are still a few more hiding somewhere out there, this is definitely worth looking at.
A few years back, they also upgraded the map to show what kind of statue is there, just by looking at the icon. The map shows Bunyans, Uniroyal Gals, Cowboys, Big Johns, Half Wits, and more.
If you’re truly interested in spotting these behemoths, they also have a nifty little guide on how to identify a Muffler Man. It can help you “avoid the social embarrassment of incorrectly categorizing a muffler man sighting!” Check it out here.