Vintage Spotlight

The Jolly Green Giant: Vintage Advertising Icon

Born in 1925, the Jolly Green Giant was the representative of The Minnesota Valley Canning Company.  His creation was due to the company’s introduction that year of a new variety of European pea. These new peas were a much larger variety than those grown in America, and they were tastier.  Minnesota Valley applied for a trademark calling the new pea “Green Giant.”   

The first Green Giant was in the style of the book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and in 1928 he made his advertising debut. In this ad, he looked more like a hunched caveman carrying a large, heavy-looking pea pod.  His clothing was a shabby bearskin making him look more like the Incredible Hulk than the imposing gardener we know today, and he wasn’t even green!


In 1935 ad agency Erwin, Wasey & Co. was given the assignment to change the Giant's appearance. This transformation was accomplished by a young Leo Burnett, who straightened the Giant's stooped posture, replaced the scowl with a friendly smile and dressed him in a green leafy outfit. He also added a new background in the form of a valley of crops accentuating the height of the Giant. The Green Giant personality became so popular with the public that the Minnesota Canning Company became the Green Giant Company in 1950.

The Green Giant made his television debut in the early ’50s but it was not a natural transition.  In both animation and live action forms, the Green Giant did not give the intended impression of a friendly protector but rather like a scary monster. 

1950’s Claymation Ad

The problem was solved by building a tiny valley set for the Green Giant to oversee. They also made sure not to show the Giant in close-ups so we would see the Giant off in the distance, guarding the valley and its precious crops.  It was at this point he began to use the phrase, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” becoming known as the Jolly Green Giant.

1960’s Niblets Ad

The Green Giant Company introduced frozen vegetables in 1961 giving the Jolly Green Giant a weather-appropriate red scarf to keep him warm in the freezing temperatures, and his arms were now crossed to help keep him from shivering. The Giant’s last major change was in 1976, darkening his outfit and giving him shoes for the first time.

Sprout, the apprentice to the Green Giant, was introduced in 1973. He helps tend to the Jolly Green Valley and was designed to represent the perspective of the consumer. In advertising, he is depicted as curious, enthusiastic and well educated by the Green Giant.

Throughout the years, the Giant has always been very popular with the public. A 55-foot fiberglass statue of the Jolly Green Giant presides over his birthplace of Blue Earth, Minnesota, it was erected in 1979. Since the beginning of his career merchandise has been available with the Green Giant’s likeness. Sprout has also had his fair share of merchandise created in his image. These items are quite collectible by those who collect advertising memorabilia.