Goldy Gopher: The evolution of a beloved mascot

Goldy Gopher doesn't say much, but behind those wide eyes, buck teeth, and warm smile (or is it devious grin?) is a Minnesota icon with a great story.

Goldy began an illustrious career as the U of M mascot in the 1940s, but the origins of our famed gopher begin almost a century earlier. In 1858, the year it became a state, Minnesota acquired the nickname the Gopher State.

Decades later, U of M football coach Clarence Spears picked up on the natural connection and named his team the Gophers in 1926. We can give Spears lots of credit, because at about this time he was recruiting Bronko Nagurski—one of the greatest football players of the 20th century—to come to the U of M.

A few years later, under legendary football coach Bernie Bierman, the football team picked up the nickname the Golden Gophers from announcer Halsey Hall, a reference to their all-gold uniforms. The Gophers truly were golden in those years, winning  national football championships in 1934, 1935, and 1936.

The earliest rendering of the mascot appeared in the 1940s and was used for merchandising purposes. Goldy's look and logos have changed greatly over the years, drawing comments and even criticisms from fans wanting the right balance between fierce and friendly.

  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1857.
    Description: 
    1857
    Original gopher is depicted as a line drawing of a 13-lined ground squirrel.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1920.
    Description: 
    1920s
    At first Goldy looked like any other gopher, but became "golden" thanks to Bernie Bierman's championship teams in the 1930s.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1940.
    Description: 
    1940s
    First official U of M Goldy mascot, drawn by artist George Grooms.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1950.
    Description: 
    1950s
    Goldy takes on a more animated appearance.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1960.
    Description: 
    1960s and 1970s
    Goldy represents various University sports.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1970.
    Description: 
    1970s
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1979.
    Description: 
    1979
    UMAA celebrates its 75th anniversary and hires former U of M student and artist Bill Stein to develop Golden Gopher mark.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1985.
    Description: 
    1985
    Athletics hires Jostens to redesign Goldy with a more aggressive look. U of M alum Steve Wanvig draws new mark.
  • Black and white drawing of Goldy Gopher from 1986.
    Description: 
    1986
    In response to public criticism, Athletics asks Wanvig to make Goldy look less fierce.

Goldy has now become a face of the University and a sought-after ambassador. You can see Goldy not only at sporting events, but at other school functions, birthday parties, and even weddings. Goldy has also made a name on the national stage, winning national mascot champion titles in 2011 and 2013.

In September 2013, the University unveiled a six-foot tall statue of Goldy outside Coffman Memorial Union. The statue - made of bronze as well as maroon granite, was designed and sculpted by U of M alum Nicholas Legeros.

The statue has spawned a new tradition on campus: Students and fans can be found rubbing Goldy's teeth and making a wish, be it for a Gopher victory or for success in the classroom.

What will Goldy look like in another 70 years? Stay tuned!