Hamm's Bear

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The Hamm's Beer bear (or The Hamm's Bear) was a cartoon mascot used in television production and print advertisements for Hamm's beer. The animated character was the first of its kind in the beer industry. In a typical TV spot, the bear would dance around in a pastoral setting while the "Land of Sky Blue Waters" advertising jingle played in the background. In 1999, "Advertising Age Magazine" called the Hamm's Bear the key element of one of the best ad campaigns in the last 100 years. A statue of the mascot was erected in a St. Paul, Minnesota in 2005.


The Hamm’s ads were the first to use an animated "spokesperson" for a beer,[1] although the perpetually mute character eventually only learned to speak one line: "It bears repeating!"[2] The Hamm's Bear was created by Patrick DesJarlait following an idea first sketched on a restaurant napkin in 1952. The resultant advertising campaign—launched in 1953—was produced by the Campbell Mithun Advertising Agency.[3] The original idea for the mascot came from Cleo Hoval, an account representative with Campbell Mithun, who finally asked a business acquaintance, Ray Tollefson, to draw the bear after discarding other prior attempts by his own marketing co-workers. Cleo liked the bear that Ray drew. Tollefson eventually drew many scenes and humorous situations into which he could put the bear in the ongoing Hamm's advertising campaign. He also created an in-house book for Campbell Mithun, "How to Draw the Hamm's Bear," since so many agency artists would have to be able to draw the Hamm's Bear accurately. Tollefson went on to create such characters as the Little Flame Girl for Minnegasco and Albert & Stanley for Grain Belt Beer.[4]

Use and public acceptance[edit]

The Hamm's Bear was featured on an endless array of signs, glassware, and promotional merchandise. Commercials featuring the klutzy cartoon bear with a bewildered but cheerful grin—often pictured in television ads tripping over canoes, logs, or its own feet—were considered an overwhelming success.[3][5][6]

Although they were silly, the commercials were well written. The commercials were smarter and funnier than most 'real' cartoons at the time.[7] Each spot held genuine entertainment value for viewers (and had a miniature story-line containing a plot, some form of conflict, and usually a final resolution), guaranteeing TV audiences would pay attention. Also, the background use of actual imagery from Minnesota's natural wilderness helped get across the product's emphasis on 'natural' and 'pure' ingredients much more effectively than mere advertising copy could.[6] The founder of Campbell Mithun, the ad agency that created the Hamm's Bear, once said, "We believe the legend of the Hamm's bear, like that of Paul Bunyan, will grow greater and greater as time goes on."[7]

Hamm's went on to become one of the first companies to create a national pro-sports and college-sports branding campaign. According to Moira F. Harris’ book, "The Paws of Refreshment: The Story of Hamm’s Beer Advertising," Hamm's claimed to be the biggest TV and sports radio beer sponsor in the country by 1964.[7] The Hamm’s Bear ads were run in support not only of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings; but also of the Chicago White Sox, Cubs and Bears; the Kansas City A’s; San Francisco Giants and 49ers; the Los Angeles Rams; Houston Oilers; Baltimore Orioles; Green Bay Packers; and Dallas Cowboys.[1]

The Audit Research Bureau reported that nationwide, in 1965, the Hamm's Bear mascot was the "best liked" advertisement. Considering that Hamm's commercials only aired in 31 states, this is quite an accomplishment.[6] The Hamm's Bear mascot was the key element of the campaign which ranked 75th in the "Best Ad Campaign of the 20th Century" as named by "Advertising Age Magazine" in 1999.[5][8] The character was so well known (and identified so closely with the state of Minnesota) that in 2000, the St. Paul Pioneer Press named the Hamm's Bear as one of the "150 Most Influential Minnesotans of the Past 150 Years".[6]

By that time, however, the current parent company, Miller Brewing, had drastically reduced the bear's use due to concerns it might be interpreted as an attempt to market beer to children (just as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco had recently been forced to discontinue its Joe Camel character for similar reasons).


In 2002, to commemorate the bear's 50th anniversary, a St. Paul-based group of Hamm's memorabilia collectors, the Hamm's Club, proposed erecting a six-foot granite statue of the bear near a waterfall named for William Hamm (a former company president), which is in Como Park.[9] The statue was placed instead in the Seventh Street Mall in September 2005.

In popular culture[edit]

For a period, a real "Hamm's Bear" appeared in commercials. This bear, named Sascha, had been trained by animal trainer Earl Hammond.[10] The Hamm's Bear is immortalized in David Frizzell's song, "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino..." which lyrics include: "...When the Hamm's Bear says its closing time, you won't have far to crawl."[11][7]


  1. ^ a b Brand of Sky Blue Waters; by Don Jacobson; November 17, 2004; accessed January 2014.
  2. ^ Ten Greatest Alcohol Icons of All Times; The Story Behind the Face on the Bottle; article; by Frank Kelly Rich; Modern Drunkard Magazine on line; accessed January 2014.
  3. ^ a b Hamm's Bear Historic Marker; dedicated in 2005; Hamm;s Club; reference MN MSM 00001; at Seventh Street Place, W. 7th Pl. and St. Peter St. (Latitude (N/S): 44.946833 – Longitude (E/W): -93.096911).
  4. ^ Ray Tollefson, artist, dies at 91; February 22, 2002; Obituary article; Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune; accessed January 2014.
  5. ^ a b Flat Earth Brings Beer Brewing Back to Old Hamm's Site; 06/10/2013; article; by Frederick Melo; Twin Cities.com (Twin Cities Pioneer Press online); accessed January 2014
  6. ^ a b c d Beer and Television: Perfectly Tuned In; by Carl H. Miller; Article Reprinted from "All About Beer Magazine" (by permission of the author); Beer History on line; accessed January 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d The Paws of Refreshment: The Story of Hamm's Beer Advertising; 2000; book; by Moira F. Harris; Pogo Press; retrieved January 2014.
  8. ^ Note: for Hamm's Beer: From the Land of Sky Blue Waters
  9. ^ Note: Although it would not mention the word "beer," the City Council declined the offer in 2003, in part because the original location was near a playground.
  10. ^ Elephants in the Living Room, Bears in the Canoe, Eatl and Liz Hammond with Elizabeth Levy (1977)
  11. ^ Gene O'Brien, Broadcast; May 23, 1977

External links[edit]