Blue Earth may claim to be the birthplace of the ice cream sandwich, but anyone who has driven through this sleepy southern Minnesota town knows that its true renown comes from a healthier food icon: a Jolly Green Giant statue that stands more than 55 feet tall.
Surprisingly, the statue was not built by the Jolly Green Giant Company, or even financed by it. In fact, the statue is located more than 60 miles away from the headquarters of its namesake vegetable company. Instead, the person responsible for the 8,000 pounds of sculpted green fiberglass is Paul Hedberg, the former owner of the AM radio station KBEW. Hedberg hosted a summertime radio show called “Welcome Travelers,” in which he interviewed motorists who were passing through Blue Earth on their way to the Black Hills and Yellowstone. There was a local factory in Blue Earth that canned Green Giant vegetables, and Hedberg would give cans to his interviewees at the end of the show. This tradition would prompt some of them to ask, “Where’s the Green Giant?”
Interstate 90 was being built during this time, and Hedberg was one of the citizens instrumental in ensuring that a section of the freeway passed by Blue Earth. This section of the road was set to open in the late 1970s, and Hedberg came up with the idea of installing a Green Giant statue nearby in hopes of luring even more motorists to pass through town. While he received permission from the President of Green Giant to build the statue, he was told that he had to raise the necessary funds himself. Luckily, the $50,000 needed for construction of the statue was raised by Hedberg and local businesses within only a week.
Work on the statue began in Sparta, Wisconsin, in 1978. While Green Giant advertising was able to provide some of the necessary guidance for the statue, the Giant’s backside had to be designed from scratch, as it had never been depicted in any ads.
The completed statue was too large to fit in a flatbed truck, so its arms and the rest of its body were transported separately, and everything was put together upon arrival in Blue Earth. On July 6, 1979, the statue was erected on an eight-foot-high base with a staircase so that tourists could climb up and pose for pictures between the Giant’s legs. Upon its completion, the smiling Giant was the fifth-largest free-standing statue in the United States.
Additional plans for the statue included adding a button that would exclaim “Ho Ho Ho!” when pushed, but the funds were never raised. The statue has inspired “The Giant Museum Featuring Jolly Green Giant Memorabilia” (the long, convoluted name is due to a lack of official association with the Jolly Green Giant Company), as well as an annual summer festival called Giant Days. And every winter, the Blue Earth Fire Department gives the Giant an enormous red scarf to keep his neck warm in the Minnesota cold.
Know Before You Go
I-90 exit 119. Turn south onto US 169. Drive a half-mile, turn right onto CR-104/Fairgrounds Rd, then take the first left in the roundabout onto Giant Drive. Behind the Dairy Queen.