Smokey Bear is the American national symbol used by the United States Forest Service prevent to man-caused forest fires, by educating children throughout the country.
In 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt started a national campaign to reduce the number of man-caused fires. The campaign made use of the Uncle Sam cartoon figure with the slogan: “Your forest…Your fault…Your loss. This campaign was a great success from the beginning.
After the Second World War, cartoon animals were used for the
campaign. In 1944 Walt Disney released the movie ‘Bambi’ and they gave
the U.S. Forest Service permission to use Bambi on their forest fire
campaign posters, for one year. The poster Bambi said: ‘Please, Mister,
Do not be Careless, Prevent Forest Fires Greater danger than ever!’ The
use of animals caught on and the U.S. Forest Services decided to use a
bear after the first year.
Illustrator Albert Staehel drew the first Smokey, although it hadn’t a name than. Employees of the United States Forest Service came up with the name Smokey Bear from ‘Smoky’ Joe Martin a fireman of the New York City Fire Department. On the first poster with Smokey Bear from August 1944, he had a width brimmed ranger hat and blue jeans on. A belt kept his pants on, but he had no shirt on.
Rudy Wendelin was the next Smokey Bear illustrator and it was not long before the bear was so famous that the United States Postal Service gave him his own zip code because he received so much fan mail: Smokey Bear Headquarters, Washington, DC, 20252. Rudy Wendelin drew Smokey until his retirement in 1973. He gave him hands that resembled hand of a fireman than a paw.
Smokey also used TV commercials for bringing his message across. In the current commercials he has the voice of actor Sam Elliott. Before that he had the voice of Jackson Weaver and Jim Cummings. We have a special page with four TV commercials from different decades.
Smokey Bear is a great success as a symbol for forest fire prevention, as its creators had a message that appealed to children and because they themselves could help. Smokey Bear is a mascot who had authority, but also was a cuddly toy.
This is the cartoon version of Smokey Bear, but there is also a real Smokey Bear.
The Real Smokey Bear
In 1950 was the Capitan Gap Wildfire in Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico. The forest was lost, but in the smouldering remnants the fire fighters discovered a small, baby black bear. He desperate clasped to a tree, his legs and hip with burns. The bear became known as “Hotfoot Teddy” and was in need of medical care. The fire fighters flew the young bear to a veterinarian in Santa Fe. Newspapers picked up on the news quickly and changed his name in Smokey after the cartoon-bear. After he fully recovered, he was given to the United States Forest Service, after which he arrived in the National Zoo in Washington DC.
For twenty-six years Smokey was the national symbol for fire, until he retired in 1975 was. Unfortunately the original Smokey Bear died on November 9, 1976. Although the real Smokey Bear died, his message will life on: “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.”
Smokey Bear Act
In 1952 Smokey Bear became a logo of the Department of Agriculture. All the money from royalties and licenses for use of the logo went to the prevention of forest fires. The image and logo of Smokey Bear is protected by three agencies: USDA Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.
There are many collectibles of Smokey in all types and sizes. You see him on toys, in ads, on bottles, watches, posters, matchboxes, in comics and much more. Many companies use an image of Smokey Bear in their products, but the favourites are his stamp and his comic.
For his fortieth birthday, the United States Postal System in 1984 issued a stamp of 20 cents, designed by Rudy Wendelin. In the centre is the familiar face of Smokey Bear, with to the left a small picture of a small Smokey in a tree during the fire in Lincoln National Forest.
The comic was created by Western Publishing Company, it tells the story of how the cub was found by soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who helped to fight the fire in Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico.
There are also, a teddy bear by Ideal Toy Company, a 1968 Smokey Bear game from Milton Bradley, a Norcrest biscuit tin, a single by Tinkerbell Records, Bradleys Swiss Made watch, lunch box and thermos bottle by Aladdin Company, McCoy Company ashtray and different condiment sets.
Because there are still articles made with Smokey Bear on it, it’s easy to start a collection while older item can still be found.