Hanson was born in Minnesota. He lived in Germany in the 1950s, finally settling in Florida in 1965. He was one of a number of sculptors who took to casting figures from life in the 1960s. Hanson's first casts, dating from 1967, had a political and social-realist edge, referring to the Vietnam War and the race riots. In 1970 he began casting working-class figures in ordinary, mundane situations, such as a woman with her shopping trolley or a housewife reading. Like the Pop artists, with whom he is often associated, Hanson was interested in the banality of consumer society.