This is a day dedicated to one of America’s most famous folklore heroes — Paul Bunyan Day comes along only once a year, on June 28! We’re dusting off our old books about this mighty lumberjack and adding a bit of nostalgia to our day. Come, join us!
History of Paul Bunyan Day
The character Paul Bunyan was brought to life by the stories lumberjacks from the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada told, way back in the 18th century. They were all told orally and no original written account exists in the world. Even the etymology of the name is unknown, but some people believe it is related to the Québécois expression ‘bon yenne!,’ which is an exclamation of surprise or astonishment. Logging bunkhouses continued with the tradition of telling Paul Bunyan stories for decades after that, embellishing it with more and more details to make this lumberjack larger than life. Along the way, he also gained a companion, a giant blue-colored ox called Babe the Blue Ox, who was said to be a gift from Paul’s fellow woodsmen, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
Paul Bunyan’s story was first written down by a journalist, James MacGillivray. However, this character was popularized by freelance writer and adman William Laughead when he created an advertising campaign for a logging company using Paul Bunyan stories. Soon, this character’s myth and tales spread far and wide around the U.S. and Canada, and he began to feature in many other promotional campaigns for products, services, and cities. Even today, many U.S. cities in the north-central side claim the title of being Paul Bunyan’s official home. Statues were erected in various places — a 26 foot tall animated Paul Bunyan at an amusement park in Minnesota as well as a 49-foot tall statue of Bunyan and a 35-foot statue of Babe the Blue Ox in Klamath, California — to honor this folktale.
Unlike most other folklore heroes, Paul Bunyan has an origin story. As the story goes, five storks were needed to carry this large newborn. As he became older, when he clapped his hands and laughed, windows shook and shattered. Another tale has him sawing the wooden legs off of his parents’ bed in the middle of the night — when he was only seven months old! Over the years, many theories about who Paul Bunyan is based on have been thought up and rejected. Some believe Bunyan was based on a French-Canadian logger named Fabian ‘Joe’ Fournier, who moved to Michigan after the American Civil War. He was strongly built with giant hands and was above six feet in height. Some time during this period, stories about Fournier merged with tales about a French-Canadian war hero named Bon Jean, and many believe Bunyan’s name comes from ‘Bon Jean’.
Today, stories about Paul Bunyan have appeared in more than 1,000 books; and this character is renowned as one of the most popular and recognizable characters in American folklore.
Paul Bunyan Day timeline
Lumberjacks all over the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada tell tales about a lumberjack named Paul Bunyan.
French-Canadian logger, Fabian "Joe" Fournier's murder in this year — and the subsequent trial of his alleged killer — spawns theories that he was the inspiration behind Paul Bunyan's character.
Journalist James MacGillivray writes a story, 'Round River', about Paul Bunyan — it is published in a local newspaper in Oscoda, Michigan.
Journalist James MacGillivray shares a collection of stories about Bunyan while working at the Detroit News Tribune.
James MacGillivray collaborates with a poet to create a Paul Bunyan-inspired poem for “Lumberman” magazine.
K. Bernice Stewart first documents the original Bunyan 'tall tales', gathering these stories from local loggers while studying at the University of Wisconsin.
Adman and freelance writer William Laughead creates a promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company using Paul Bunyan as their 'face' — this campaign greatly embellishes the character's exploits and adds more details and factors, like Paul's immense size and Babe the Ox.
Paul Bunyan Day FAQs
What is Paul Bunyan famous for?
Paul Bunyan was the hero of lumberjacks in North America. A lumberjack himself, Bunyan was known for his power, pace, and skill — he was said to have cleared forests from the Northeast to the Pacific Ocean.
Where is Paul Bunyan Day celebrated?
National Paul Bunyan Day is celebrated all over America, and prominently in states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, and California.
What is Paul Bunyan's birthday?
Popular accounts put Paul Bunyan’s birthdate on February 12, 1834.
How To Celebrate Paul Bunyan Day
Read a Paul Bunyan tale
The best way to celebrate National Paul Bunyan Day is to cozy up with a book on Paul Bunyan's folktales. For variety, you can browse other popular American folktale stories about popular characters including Brer Rabbit, Davy Crockett, and Bigfoot. Visit local bookstores and libraries to see if they stock these books.
Take a break from your usual clothes and dress as a lumberjack like Paul Bunyan (or his sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack) for a day. For added fun, you can even act out a few of Paul Bunyan’s famous tales. You can turn this into a special day for children, too, by getting them involved, putting up Paul Bunyan posters, or inspiring kids to write a poem about their favorite character from the Paul Bunyan stories.
Go on a road trip
Jump into your car for a quick road trip to see some famous Paul Bunyan statues around the U.S. Giant-sized Paul Bunyan statues appear in states like California, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, and more. Some places even have themed amusement parks and museums with Paul Bunyan memorabilia. Simply ask Google where to find such statues and artifacts, and get going!
5 Fun Paul Bunyan Myths
Babe's blue coat
One winter, all the snowflakes falling from the sky were blue, which turned Babe's coat blue permanently.
Paul Bunyan formed the Grand Canyon
Paul Bunyan and Babe walked through an area, and as he dragged his ax behind him, the Grand Canyon was formed.
Paul Bunyan created the Minnesota Lakes
The 10,000 lakes of Minnesota were formed by the footprints of Paul Bunyan and Babe as they walked around after getting lost in a snowstorm.
Paul Bunyan's little helpers
Stories claim Paul trained carpenter ants to help him with his tasks.
Paul Bunya made Mount Hood
This potentially active stratovolcano in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States is said to be a result of Bunyan piling up stones to extinguish a campfire.
Why We Love Paul Bunyan Day
It takes us back to our childhood
As adults, our daily grind and schedule do not leave much space for folktales (or tales of any kind, really). If, like us, you have forgotten how much wonder a little story brings to your life then National Paul Bunyan Day offers the perfect escape. Let stories about this American lumberjack take you back to tales told around the campfire while marshmallows roast on the flames in front of you.
We see how legends are made
By all accounts, Paul Bunyan might not have even been real, and yet, his name is synonymous with lumberjacks all over America. Days like this show us how the power of advertising can spread a tale far and wide. We imagine Paul Bunyan would have been just another long-forgotten fairytale had William Laughead’s advertising campaign not relaunched this character’s popularity.
We (re)discover folklore
Read Paul Bunyan stories now, if you haven't already. Not only do you get a wonderful chance to explore a new genre, but you can also brush up on your folklore knowledge and study cultural traits that define model lumberjacks.
Paul Bunyan Day dates