Smokey Bear is a national treasure almost as recognizable as Mickey Mouse. This year marks the 70th year Smokey has served as a fire awareness symbol making him part of the Ad Council's longest running public service campaign.
During World War II, the Japanese, with some success, used forest fires against America as one of their weapons. Most of our fighting men were overseas, and few were left to fight the fires. The U.S. Forest Service began a campaign to educate local communities about needing all of us to work at preventing deadly forest fires.
Public service posters were warranted. In 1942, Walt Disney loaned his Bambi characters to the government for one year to be used in the posters. In the meantime, a new forest character for future campaigns was sought.
On August 9, 1944, Smokey appeared on his first poster with caption "Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!" In 1947, the words were changed to "Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires." In 2001, the iconic slogan's "forest fires" was replaced with "wildfires."
In 1950, an accident caused a real live symbol of Smokey Bear to be found. According to the New Mexico State Forestry site, two devastating fires in the area that year were human caused. By the time one was under control, the other had started picking up speed.
"On May 8th, a terrible wind made it impossible to control the fire and on this day nineteen fire fighters were forced to escape to a rock slide while the fire burned over them. They were rescued without any fatalities. It was on May 9th that the face of forest fire prevention changed forever with the discovery of a badly singed bear cub.
Briefly named 'Hotfoot Teddy' he was about to take his place in history as the 'living symbol' Smokey. Found clinging to a charred tree, the tiny cub was brought back to fire camp by a group of soldiers from Ft. Bliss, Texas, who had come to help fight the Capitan Gap fire. New Mexico game warden Ray Bell, who had been flying over the fire for fire boss Dean Earl, had heard of the burned cub. Ray knew the cub needed medical attention and the best veterinarian he knew was in Santa Fe. Ray loaded the little cub in the airplane and flew to Santa Fe. Once there, Dr. Ed Smith was the vet who treated the cub's burns but it was Ruth Bell (Ray's wife) and daughter Judy who deserve most of the credit for getting the little cub to eat."
Pictures of the orphan bear were released to the public, and Smokey quickly became a much-loved celebrity. Shortly thereafter, he was flown to his new home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of well-wishers and media awaited his arrival. During his 26-year stay, he received millions of visitors and fan letters. In fact, due to his immense popularity, the post office gave him his own zip code-20252-in 1964.
Smokey died in 1976. His remains were flown back to New Mexico and buried at Smokey Bear Historical Park. The plaque at his grave reads, "This is the resting place of the first living Smokey Bear...the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation."
As for what Smokey has in common with Frosty the Snowman and Peter Cottontail, all three have songs written about them by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins. To hear the 1952 Smokey Bear song, see video tube clip included alongside this article.
Nasa news, 2012 "On May 14, Smokey went where no bear had gone before. NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and the Expedition 31 crew chose a plush Smokey doll to be the team's launch mascot, celebrating their trip to the International Space Station. During his tour about 250 miles above Earth, Smokey will turn 68 years old, sparking the celebrations back on the ground Thursday."