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Smokey Bear History and 65th Birthday

Updated on February 27, 2014

Story of Smokey the Bear

Smokey Bear a Symbol

Smokey Bear has been the symbol for preventing forest fires since 1944. On August 9, 2009, he became 65 years old.

The first images of Smokey were in the public domain, but in1952 the Smokey Bear Act (PL-82-359) passed through Congress. It put Smokey the Bear in the Secretary of Agriculture's care and stated that fees and royalties had to be used for forest fire prevention. The Smokey Bear Act got amended in 1974 (PL-93-318). Smokey had sparked commercial attention by 1952 because of his popularity. He was a well recognized icon by then.

Smokey's History

In 1944 the Forest Service selected a bear for the country's fire prevention symbol and the Wartime Advertising Council agreed. They picked Albert Staehle to create the original Smokey Bear Poster. Staehle's poster presented Smokey splashing out a campfire using a bucket of water while wearing his jeans and campaign hat. Smokey's slogan stated: "Smokey says--Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires."

The Junior Forest Ranger program started in 1952 This program inspired kids to learn about preventing forest fires. It asked children to write to Smokey and sent out fire prevention materials including a Junior Forest Ranger kit. In three years, half-million children joined. Ideal Toys debuted a Smokey Bear doll in 1952; it came with a mail-in card for becoming a Junior Fire Ranger.

During the 1950's, Smokey Bear was depicted on cartoons, books, and comic strips. A hit song entitled “Smokey the Bear written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson came out in 1952. This is why there are two names: Smokey Bear and Smokey the Bear. The official name is Smokey Bear.

The promotion of the average citizen helping to prevent forest fires included celebrities Bing Crosby, Roy Rogers, Dinah Shore, and Art Linkletter conversing with Smokey on the radio.

During the 1970's and 1980's Smokey's campaign lagged as more technology and different times and attitudes emerged. His simple, straightforward message got lost in the melee.

Smokey celebrated his 40th birthday in 1984 with the issue of his postage stamp. Smokey Sports took off in 1987, thus the “National Smokey Bear Day” was born and the major baseball leagues of the U. S. and Canada participated. In 2001, Smokey's slogan changed to "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires." In 2004, on Smokey's 60th birthday, he received a new logo that says “60 Years of Vigilance.”

Before Smokey

In 1902, the original fire warning poster was born. It stated guidelines to help control forest fires. In 1939, a poster came out depicting an Uncle Sam forest ranger. He pointed at a blazing fire and said “Your Forest-Your Fault-Your Loss.”

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and in 1942 a Japanese submarine came up close to the Southern California coast and fired a blast of shells that hit an oil field bordering Santa Barbara, near the Los Padres National Forest.

People were concerned that War World II had struck mainland America. This caused them to worry about the timberland growing on the Pacific Coast being set ablaze by more incendiary bombing by the Japanese. There was already a problem of accidental fires and some arson. This new threat to the forests inspired a more comprehensive campaign to prevent forest fires.

Statistically, only 1 forest fire out of 10 wasn't started by people. Thus, the concept that people could prevent forest fires was promoted. The Wartime Advertising Council created slogans and posters for the cause. When the Disney movie “Bambi” debuted in 1944, he allowed the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program to use his deer on a poster but only for a year. Bambi was a popular and successful fire prevention icon. She demonstrated that an animal symbol caught people's attention.

Hotfoot Teddy

A black bear cub got caught in the Capitan Gap fire of 1950 in New Mexico, which scorched 17,000 acres. This bear cub had climbed a tree in the Lincoln National Forest to avoid the wildfire. His hind legs and paws got burned. A game warden found him after the fire stopped burning and a Game and Fish Ranger named Ray Bell took Hotfoot Teddy to the vet. This cub's name was changed to Smokey.

Smokey's story became big news and the Bell family was interviewed by Life Magazine. Shortly thereafter, Smokey flew in a Piper Cub to his new home. He stayed at the National Zoo of Washington, D.C. for the duration of his life. He died on November 9, 1976. He was buried in Capitan, New Mexico at what became the Smokey Bear Historical Park.

Results of Efforts

  • 1930's-yearly wildfire average 167,277

  • 1950's-yearly wildfire average 125,947

  • 1990's-yearly wildfire average 106,306


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    • Deltachord profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks Don. That is a good memory.

    • dkrainwater profile image


      9 years ago from Sheridan, Wyoming

      Great hub, I remember I had a Smokey the Bear comic book as a kid in the 60s

    • Deltachord profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks for your comment. Gave me a chuckle.

    • profile image

      Heather Dixey 

      9 years ago

      nicely summarized. he gets a senior citizen discount now right?


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