As a past recipient of the Bronze Smokey Award for wildfire prevention activities and one of Smokey’s friends I thought it was only appropriate to send Smokey Bear a birthday card. Today, Friday August 9th our nation is recognizing Smokey Bear’s 69th birthday.
There are many facts about Smokey as well as myths which create excellent trivia between those of us who have grown up with an appreciation of Smokey Bear and the fire prevention message of preventing human-caused wildland fires. There is no other fire prevention symbol with greater reach and recognition than the image of Smokey Bear
Fact or myth?
What I have learned is that in the early 1900’s Americans were being warned about damaging catastrophic forest fires where 9 out of 10 fires were human-caused. Fire Prevention efforts by the USDA Forest Service during World War II included a host of other caricatures and messages. The main threat at this time was the potential disruption that forest fires started by the enemy on the west coast could impact strategically important timber supplies needed for the war effort. By 1944 the Wartime Advertising Council decided to use an animal to carry the fire prevention message. On August 9, 1944 a bear was chosen. The bear was to be named “Smokey” after Assistant Chief Smokey Joe Martin. The first slogan “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires”. Later, the coined phrase “Remember only you can prevent forest fires” started in 1947. Albert Staehle and Rudy Wendlin were the early artist of Smokey.
But it was not until May 9, 1950 that the “live” Smokey Bear came to exist. A five pound black bear cub was found after a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains, New Mexico. This bear was named “Smokey” after the poster bear. This living bear was sent to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. to become the new living symbol for wildfire prevention.
In 1952 President Eisenhower signed into law the Smokey Bear Act, public law 359. In 1953 the Junior Ranger Program began and I am proud to say that I was one of six million kids enrolled to help Smokey prevent forest fires. The President of the United States has one thing in common with Smokey; they both have their own zip code. By 1964, the Smokey fan mail piled up so high that he was given his own zip, 20252. In 1971 another orphaned black bear went to Washington D.C. to become “Little Smokey”.
With many tears, the living Smokey Bear passed away and was returned to his hometown of Capitan, New Mexico and is buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park. Little Smokey ended the living symbol of Smokey with his death on August 11, 1990.
The Smokey and Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program which was organized by the USDA Forest Service back in 1944 is the longest running public service advertising campaign in the history of the Ad Council. I remember the summer of 1994 as our local fire prevention cooperative celebrated Smokey’s 50th birthday as millions of others prevention personnel did across the United States.
The best birthday gift you could give Smokey this year is to do your part and be very careful with fire as one tree can make a million matches, but one match can burn a million trees. From the post war Baby Boomer’s generation to many generations to follow, we will always remember the coined phrase, “Only
You Can Prevent Forest Fires”. For more nostalgia and information about Smokey Bear visit this website.