Minnesota became known as the 'Gopher State' in 1857, the result of a political cartoon ridiculing the $5 million Railroad Loan which helped open up the West. The cartoon portrayed shifty railroad barons as striped gophers pulling a railroad car carrying the Territorial Legislature toward the "Slough of Despond". The first U of M yearbook bearing the name "Gopher Annual" appeared in 1887.
Minnesota's athletic teams became widely known as the "Gophers" but it was not until 1934 that the immortal Halsey Hall, great Minnesota sportswriter and broadcaster, dubbed Bernie Bierman's all-gold uniformed team "The Golden Gophers". (Bierman chose the gold color because the football blended in with the uniforms).
The embodiment of the Gopher mascot came to life in 1952 when assistant bandmaster Jerome Glass bought a fuzzy wool suit and asked technology junior Jim Anderson climb into it."They took the guy who couldn't march or play and put him where he wouldn't do any harm," commented Anderson.
Each person who through the years was allowed the joy of being the Gopher developed an individual personality, a unique way of relating to the crowd. And the mystique of Goldy Gopher became a tradition that absolutely prohibited removal of the head while in public, maintaining an illusion for the younger children that maybe, just maybe, the Gopher is a real live huggable animal.
The gopher suit and image of Goldy has changed though the years, sometimes by chance, sometimes by design. Until the early 1970's the had was narrow and pointy-nosed, reminiscent of the real animal. Then in 1972, Goldy suddenly grew chubby cheeks and a wider, forward-looking face, almost cherubic in appearance. in fact, the gopher of the '70's and early '80's was comparable in appearance to a teddy bear, a favorite of children and grandmothers. For a brief period in 1985, a fierce-looking 'mega-rodent' appeared, with barrel chest, clown feet and sinister eyes. This look didn't last long, and Goldy soon again became a lovable, friendly character.
Goldy also has a mischievous side which is most readily observed at the marching band indoor concerts. Whether cutting off announcer Rod Person's tie with a scissors, mimicking the director as he prepared to conduct, or finding ways to distract the audience during the breaks, Goldy can definitely be a clown when the situation permits.
From 1952 until 1990, the Gopher appearing at U of M sports events was a member of the Marching Band, and a symbiosis developed through the years that on more than one occasion kept Goldy out of trouble. With a propensity for attracting tail-pulling kids, Goldy has long relied on the band to save him from their clutches. And when the opposing team's cheerleaders or bandmembers managed to 'kidnap' the unfortunate rodent (a Big Ten tradition, it seems), bandmembers would always come to the rescue.
In recent years the Gopher Athletic Department began to make use of Goldy at an ever-increasing number of events, and actually held University-wide tryouts to secure a number of students who cold cover the busy schedule. However, there will likely always be one special Goldy who is a bandmember and who will maintain the magical, rambunctious character that children of all ages have come to love Goldy Gopher. Over a course of a year, Goldy makes over 1000 appearances and is at virtually all home games for University teams, usually wearing the appropriate sporting attire, and was nominated to and made the 2004 Capital One All-American Mascot Team. Goldy also competes in the UCA Mascot National Championships, and regularly makes the top 10. He placed 3rd in 2005.
In a comparison between Goldy and several kinds of rodent, the gopher was judged to look least like Goldy -- the results judged that his appearance was closest to a chipmunk or squirrel. Another animal Goldy is claimed to look like is the beaver, due to the buck teeth and tail. These inaccuracies are due to the fact that when the gopher was declared the mascot of the University, the artist hired to create the mascot did not know what a gopher looked like. As a replacement, he drew some furry animals he saw at a rest stop. The gopher drawn and used as the original mascot was based on a picture of a thirteen-lined ground squirrel.
The University's Marching Band was in charge of Goldy until 1994. Up until that time when it was taken from the band and given to the athletic department, Goldy would be in every pregame and halftime show of the band. Each week a new band member would be Goldy, and the mouth could open wide enough so the person could play his or her instrument while marching the drill that Goldy was doing for that show. Goldy Gopher has no gender, and there was talk of an unofficial female gopher, "Goldie" that women's athletics would use, and it looked more feminine in appearance. When the men's and women's athletic departments merged, the unofficial Goldie officially went away.