For more than 150 years, Hamm’s Beer has refreshed lager lovers everywhere but the beer really hit its stride at the tail end of 2017. As reported by MillerCoors (which counts Hamm’s among the brands it brews), Hamm’s was up 74.6 percent on an 87.3 percent jump in volume. Sales are increasing, continuing to draw in its existing fanbase (often refer to as “Hammpions”) along with new drinkers at Hamm’s happy hours. Hamm’s success can also be attributed to a very specific nostalgic element: its brand mascot. The most loyal Hammpions recall that a friendly bear was there from the very beginning — and the brand couldn’t have been the success it was without him.
Let’s go back to the start, or as close to the start as we can. Hamm’s Beer was born and bred in the Midwest, established in 1865 as Theodore Hamm’s Brewing Company in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Throughout the 1900s, leadership and various acquisitions by brewing companies allowed the beer brand to steadily boom with consumers.
The early 1950s saw the debut of an illustrated brown bear mascot — known as Hamm’s Bear — featured on the brand’s packaging. He was originally drawn by Native American artist Patrick Desjarlait and brought to life through an advertising campaign from ad executive Raymond O. Mithun and artist Ray Tollefson at the ad agency Campbell Mithun (now known as Mithun). The Hamm’s Bear danced, got caught up in various hijinks, and was accompanied by a catchy “from the land of sky blue waters” jingle, an ode to Minnesota’s clear, blue waters.
Bill Stein, a former WWII veteran, joined the Hamm’s Brewing Company in 1954. A naturally gifted illustrator and graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (then known as the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts), Stein drew and designed the character for over 30 years. Stein later revealed that Hamm’s Bear was simply known as “Mr. Bear” and that he didn’t have a name. The character’s design was also switched from a brown bear to a black bear after the company realized there weren’t any brown bears in Minnesota.
The Hamm’s Beer Bear, as mentioned earlier, was one rugged character. Or he tried to be one, anyway. He spent most of his time indulging in the great outdoors, dabbling in everything from entering a motocross race to rescuing ducks but was accident-prone and klutzy. Every now and then, he would trade in the outdoors for the bar, occasionally showing up at our real world pubs as his animated self. Thanks to the character’s iconic look, he was instantly recognized and welcomed by Hammpions. His jingle also had an unusual story behind its creation. Mithun helped create the jingle as part of the campaign, which was based on Haitian voodoo drumming recordings and used empty cans of StarKist tuna fish to beat out its rhythmic sound.
Despite his popularity, the Hamm’s Bear had moments where he retreated from the public eye. There was a strong reaction to his disappearance the few times it happened: sales for Hamm’s declined, according to author Moira F. Harris who wrote the book “The Paws of Refreshment: The Story of Hamm’s Beer Advertising.” Hamm’s Bear made a significant comeback in the 1980s after Pabst acquired the company and an extra effort was made to keep the character on the beer’s label. The bear was that beloved.
As Hamm’s refreshing beer continues to surge with today’s consumers, we will be excited to see what’s in store next for this cheerful bear and his continuing adventures in the land of pines, lofty balsams, and sky blue waters.