"Remember -- Only You....
...Can Prevent Wild Fires!"
Smokey Bear has warned people about the ravages of wild fire for so long that few people remember how this famous bear first captured our nation's attention.
Dressed in a Ranger's hat and blue jeans, often sporting a shovel, his famous slogan is one of the most recognized advertising phrases in the world, and is protected by federal law.
In 1937 President Roosevelt kicked off a national campaign to reduce the number of fires caused by people. With approximately forty million acres lost to fire each year across the nation, this campaign featured Uncle Sam as a forest ranger. The message spoke to human element of fire, emphasizing people's responsibility in protecting the forest. The message- "Your Forests - Your Fault - Your Loss" was a powerful message for the public.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor during WWII, the Japanese also attacked an oil field near the Los Padros National Forest in California. With so many men in the military and only a skeleton staff of firefighters remaining, the potential for wild fires struck terror across the country. Americans feared that a fire could destroy our forest resources when wood products were greatly needed for the war effort. As the prevention of wild fires came into focus, the Wartime Advertising Council developed fire prevention posters with slogans such as, "Forest Fires Aid the Enemy," and "Careless Matches Aid the Axis."
In 1944, Walt Disney released the movie "Bambi," and allowed the Forest Service to use the deer on their campaign posters for one year. This proved effective and showed that a forest animal helped get the message across. The Forest Service decided to continue using an animal and chose a bear for their fire safety mascot.
The Forest Service chose the name to be Smokey Bear, after Smokey" Joe Martin, who had been the Assistant Chief of the New York City Fire Department. On August 9, 1944, the first poster of Smokey Bear was produced, drawn by Albert Staehle.
The poster depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The next year Rudy Wedelin became Smokey's official artist. Smokey Bear soon became popular, so popular that he was given his own zip code because he received such a large amount of fan mail.
His image has been seen in stuffed toys, records, pens, sports items, clothing, and books, and he has become one of the most recognized characters worldwide.
The Story of the Real Bear.
In 1950, some careless person started the terrible Capitan Gap wild fire on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. When a strong wind suddenly swept the fire toward a group of courageous firefighters, 24 of them had to run to a rock slide, lay face down, and cover their faces with handkerchiefs to escape the deadly flames. They emptied their canteens over their clothes and swatted their burning clothes. After an hour, the fire moved on. All 24 survived. When the smoke cleared and they caught their breath, they saw a scorched hillside where once a great forest stood.
Amongst the smoldering ashes was a tiny black bear cub, burnt and afraid, clinging to a tree. The cub was nicknamed "Hotfoot Teddy." They searched for the cub's mother, but could not find her. The cub needed veterinary aid for the burns on his paws and hindquarters, so he was flown to Santa Fe to receive professional treatment. While his wounds were healing, he stayed at the home of Ray Bell, the game warden who flew him to Santa Fe. Ray's daughter Judy befriended the little bear and helped nurse him back to health.
The little bear had gained nationwide attention and was soon renamed Smokey after the symbol for fire prevention. Smokey was presented by the New Mexico State Game Warden to the the Chief of the Forest Service to be used to aid the fire prevention program.
Now the question was, "Where will Smokey live?" Little cubs grow up very fast, and Ray Bell's house was no longer an option as the bear's home. It was decided that Smokey's permanent home would be the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Smokey became the most popular exhibit at the Zoo. Two other bears, both from New Mexico, eventually joined Smokey in Washington. Goldie, a female black bear, was introduced in 1962 as a possible mate for Smokey. However, no cubs were born of the two so Smokey II was introduced to carry on for Smokey in his old age. The original Smokey retired from the public display in 1975, after 25 years of service. He passed away later that year. His adopted son carried on for him until 1990. The character of Smokey lives on, a reminder to people across the world of the dangers of fire.
Smokey was the first individual animal to ever be honored on a postage stamp. This stamp commemorated Smokey's 40th birthday in 1984.