Texas mess

“Don’t mess with Texas” is an iconic expression of state pride, but it began as an anti-littering ad campaign.

Don't Mess with Texas written on a garbage bin
Idawriter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In my experience, if you ask most foreigners where they’re from they will tell you the country first. Most Americans, however, will lead with their home state instead. And Americans from a few states (New York and California, for example) will be very very eager for you to know their home state.

In terms of state pride, however, one state stands out. Texas is one of only a few states that used to be an independent nation (Vermont is another). It’s the second-largest state and the second most populous as well. And Texans are famously proud of being from Texas.

The unofficial slogan of Texan state pride is “don’t mess with Texas.” It features on bumper stickers and baseball caps, t-shirts and tattoos. To me it comes across as a kind of mild threat, “tangle with my state at your peril.” But it actually began as an anti-littering slogan.

Back in the mid-1980s, Texas highways had a problem with garbage. Research suggested that the primary perpetrators were men aged 18 to 24, who would just chuck trash out the windows of their vehicles. So the state Department of Transportation asked a Texan advertising agency (GSD&M) to come up with a slogan that would resonate with that demographic. “Keep Texas beautiful” doesn’t exactly motivate young men apparently. The result was the very first “don’t mess with Texas.” In 1986, they got musician Stevie Ray Vaughan to spread the message:

Anti-littering ads like this have appeared in Texas ever since, but the slogan has since spread to encompass the breadth of Texan pride.

[Thanks to Today I Learned.]

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