Looking Back on 75 Years of Smokey the Bear, America’s Favorite Fire Fighter

The Smokey Bear wildfire prevention marketing campaign—the longest-running public service announcement in U.S. historical past—was launched throughout World War II. Contrary to standard fable, it didn’t begin with a real-life bear. That got here later. Pearl Harbor occurred first, in 1941, adopted by Japanese subs firing shells into California, which practically ignited Los Padres National Forest.

Panicked as a result of most firefighters had been abroad, the authorities figured residents had been the finest protection towards forest fires. Suddenly, wildland blazes had been the enemy, and when Smokey debuted in 1944, he grew to become an immediate hit—maybe too large.

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Decades of fireplace suppression, whether or not the fireplace was human-caused or not, has led to unhealthy forests primed for catastrophic burns. Which, satirically, has made Smokey’s message much more important as we speak. Here’s a breakdown of the anti-fire zealot’s lengthy historical past.

Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service


After utilizing the forged from Bambi in a fire-prevention marketing campaign, the Forest Service hires artist Albert Staehle to design its personal mascot: a bear in a ranger’s hat.


The first real-life Smokey is present in New Mexico. After 30 firefighters survive a large blaze by mendacity facedown in a rockslide, they spot a black bear cub in a charred tree and rescue it. The bear, dubbed Smokey, lived at the National Zoo till his loss of life in 1976; he was buried at his namesake park in Capitan, New Mexico.


Songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins write a tribute that backfires: For rhythm, they discuss with him as “Smokey the Bear.” The confusion ensues as we speak.


While residing at the National Zoo, real-life Smokey will get so many letters that the Postal Service provides him his personal zip code: 20252.


Smokey’s success conjures up the hatching of Woodsy Owl and his unique slogan: “Give a Hoot! Don’t Pollute.”


Snoopy celebrates Smokey’s 50th birthday. Other endorsers have included Bing Crosby, Roy Rogers, and the Grateful Dead.


The catchphrase “Only you can prevent forest fires” is modified to “wildfires” to make clear that not all burns are unhealthy.


A yearlong celebration features a Stephen Colbert PSA and dozens of occasions, like a November broadcast from Smokey Bear Historical Park, in Capitan, New Mexico.

Smokey the Bear 75th anniversaryCourtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

Smokey by the Numbers:

27,375 and Counting: Number of days of the longest public service marketing campaign in U.S. historical past
$1.6 Billion: Value of promoting time and house donated for the marketing campaign
96%: The share of Americans who acknowledge Smokey, in line with the AdCouncil



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