“Don’t Mess with Texas” is the phrase that has come to symbolize the Lone Star State, more than any other slogan. It’s a source of pride to the state’s residents, and it’s used by people all over the world to poke fun at the bravado and swagger of Texans. But older Texans will remember when the phrase was merely a slogan used to remind Texans not to litter on the highway.
As Smithsonian magazine noted this week, the Texas Department of Transportation couldn’t have had any idea how well known their motto would become worldwide when they devised the phrase back in the last 1980s. The agency had a $20 million annual statewide litter problem on their hands, and TDOT was simply trying to find a catchy method of convincing Texans to stop tossing their fast-food cups out of their car windows.
In the beginning, the Department of Transportation roped in big-time Texas talents like Stevie Ray Vaughan to pitch their campaign. And the rest is history. But these days most have forgotten the slogan’s roots in a trash can.
As Tim McClure of Austin-based advertising agency GSD&M remarked, the phrase has “so reached into Texans’ DNA that I think they just feel like it’s been around forever.”