Meet Johnny Horizon!
Where in the world is Johnny?
story by Michael Campbell
What happens when you've run the course, been downgraded to a historical footnote, tossed on the cultural reference trash heap, and relegated to Wikipedia?
Only Johnny Horizon can say for sure, but he has definitely experienced all of these things as a result of the shifting sands of time.
Which has led some folks to ask...
For the uninitiated, Johnny Horizon was cultural icon - well, that might be a stretch. But he did, after all, have his own Presidential Proclamation in 1976 - even if Johnny wasn't what you'd call a "franchise player." He was a dash of Clint Eastwood, a pinch of strong‐jawed western inventiveness, part silent cardboard cowboy cut‐out, a little Mark Trail, and, most simply, a member of the same club as Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl.
Public interest in Mr. Horizon peaked with the 1970s LP (long play) record that Johnny Horizon cut with the well‐known Burl Ives giving the listening audience a better understanding about this newly created agency mascot. When posed the question, "Who is Johnny Horizon?" the album answered, "Johnny is a symbolic character representing thoughtful users of publicly owned lands. And he has a message: "This Land is Your Land - Keep it Clean!"
According to National Public Lands News, Johnny began his humble career with the BLM in 1968, when the "Johnny Horizon" program was initiated by BLM to promote public awareness of BLM‐administered lands. Several years later Johnny Horizon teamed with such notables as famed folk‐singer Burl Ives, country music upstart Glenn Campbell, and psychedelic variety show stars Sonny and Cher. Eventually, under the aphoristic slogan "Do You Care?" the Johnny Horizon campaign used its new‐found star power and variety show cred to focus on litter and pollution efforts. In turn the success of Johnny's anti‐litter work begat toys, coloring books, watches, environmental test kits, stamps, and strangely - matches.
Shortly after the hoopla associated with the Nation's bicentennial in 1976, Johnny Horizon slowly faded into the history books. One would think that with the success of the earlier litter campaigns, celebrity endorsements, a nod from none‐other‐than President Ford, the dawn of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the stamp of approval from Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, that Johnny Horizon would be a stable fixture much like that of Smokey Bear. But alas, that just hasn't been the case.
Was Johnny Horizon a victim of his own success? A casualty in the waning days of Disco? Caught up in the pitfalls of agency budgeting? Or was it just his time to hang up his (cowboy) hat?
With successful national campaigns and endorsements from Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and President Gerald Ford, one might think Johnny Horizon would be an icon for the ages.
No one knows for sure. But a 1977 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights titled "Sex Bias in the U.S. Code" written by esteemed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discussed Johnny Horizon by noting "...A further unwarranted male reference appears in 18 U.S.C. §714, which regulates use of the 'Johnny Horizon' anti‐litter symbol. According to the congressional reports, this tall lean figure with sports clothes, hiking boots, and a field jacket is 'a representative of a rugged outdoorsman who loves our forests, deserts, mountains, lakes, streams and terrain.' This sex stereotype of the outdoors person and protector of the environment should be supplemented with a female figure promoting the same values. The two figures should be depicted as persons of equal strength of character, displaying equal familiarity and concern with the terrain of our country."
Burl Ives and others continued to push for the expansion of the Johnny Horizon program, but the times they were‐a‐changin'. Maybe it was just too much for the agency to contemplate a "Jane" Horizon, maybe Johnny needed to be a little more anthropomorphic like his buddy Smokey, or maybe with the emergence of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act it was just time for something new.
Like many artifacts from the past, it's tough to say the exact time, day, or year they ceased to be in circulation. Sometimes there is no retirement party for our beloved friends. Sometimes they just need to make way for the new generation of mascots and symbols. And sometimes, perhaps like Johnny Horizon, they just quietly ride off into the sunset knowing they've done a good day's work.
Check out this awesome retro video from the '60s featuring Johnny Cash and Burl Ives as they sing and chat about our very own Johnny Horizon!