Beyond The First Hundred Miles: American Giants Museum

Tour new museum dedicated to Muffler Men and other roadside fiberglass icons

Photo by Ryan Searl

The First Hundred Miles of Route 66 is just the start of a legendary road trip across the great state of Illinois – and beyond. In our “Beyond The First Hundred Miles” series, join us as we explore some of the other famous photo ops, roadside relics and must-see attractions that await you farther along the Mother Road. Here, we highlight a new museum dedicated to preserving the history of America’s most iconic fiberglass statues.

Nestled along the legendary Route 66 in Atlanta, Illinois, the American Giants Museum stands as a true marvel, inviting Route 66 travelers on a journey through the history of some of America’s most eye-catching fiberglass advertising statues. This new hidden gem is a captivating tribute to the whimsical roadside attractions that once graced the Mother Road, offering travelers a unique and well researched perspective on the impact of these statues. A dedicated team, led by expert Joel Baker, is helping preserve them for future generations.

Photo provided by American Giants Museum

As you step into the American Giants Museum, you’ll be transported back in time to the golden era of Route 66, where towering fiberglass statues were the undisputed stars of the roadside. While much of that era’s zany novelty architecture has since been demolished, these colossal figures still remain – often being found in barns and junkyards across the nation. The American Giants team has dedicated years to tracking down, preserving and finding a home for these rare statues.

These molded fiberglass advertising giants – often colloquially referred to as “muffler men” after the mufflers the original statues held in their hands – have become a staple of Americana since their invention in the early 1960s by boat-builder Steve Dashew and his International Fiberglass Company. Once beacons for weary travelers, the giants invited motorists to pause, stretch their legs, and capture the perfect photo – and with any luck, would coax them to shop at the business that erected it.

The beautifully designed new museum, which harkens back to the vintage service stations of the muffler men’s heyday, is devoted to telling the story of how the giants went from unusual advertising to holding such a lasting place in our zeitgeist. The museum’s collection is still growing, and soon will present the largest concentration of Muffler Man statues anywhere along Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.

Photo provided by American Giants Museum

Designed as The Route 66 Land of the Giants Rest Stop, a unique area outside the American Giants Museum offers picnic tables, a vintage bubbler water fountain, and a photo op amid a forest of giants. A Texaco Big Friend is the featured attraction on the grounds, along with a rotating collection of International Fiberglass giants – including a Cowboy, a Viking, an American Indian and, potentially, a much sought after Uniroyal Tire Gal.

Inside the museum, you’ll find an exhibit dedicated to the mystery of Texaco’s Big Friend. In the early 1960s, International Fiberglass Company built 300, 25-foot-tall statues for the Texaco Oil Company’s new “Big Friend” national advertising campaign. Before a year had passed, Texaco ordered all 300 destroyed. Uncover why this happened and how six Big Friends managed to survive.

You’ll also find an extensive exhibit on the story of the International Fiberglass Company and how they were able to make a name for themselves in the crowded advertising space of the mid-20th century. During that period, drivers were bombarded with signs, billboards and anything else businesses could employ to attract motorists’ attention and get them to stop. From fiberglass animals to giants and plenty of other kitschy objects – IFC was responsible for some of the most innovative and memorable immersive advertising of all time.

Photo provided by American Giants Museum

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the one-of-a-kind museum and discover the extraordinary world of fiberglass statues that once livened up Route 66. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through Nov. 25. After that date, the museum will close for the winter months.

Be sure to follow American Giants Museum and American Giants on Facebook for more information and details on newly installed giants.