WASHINGTON, D.C. – After more than a year of preparation, Smokey Bear continued his 75th birthday celebration with an appearance in the 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The star of the longest-running public service advertising campaign flew over New York City, reminding viewers about his important message: Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.
The USDA Forest Service icon was launched in August 1944, and is now under the joint auspices of the agency, Ad Council and National Association of State Foresters. Smokey has been fêted throughout 2019, beginning with his Jan. 1 appearance in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. There have been hundreds of events nationwide, including a live webcast Nov. 7 and a birthday celebration at USDA headquarters in August.
Smokey’s giant balloon last appeared in the parade in 1993. His first appearance was in 1966, when he promoted a Smokey cartoon special airing Thanksgiving night. The Smokey Bear planning committee worked with Macy’s design and production team to create a new balloon for this year. Members of the Smokey Bear 75th planning committee used Smokey Bear Commercial Licensing program royalties (non-appropriated dollars) to work with the Macy’s Parade Studio team over the last year to design all of the elements – from the balloon to the costumes. All of the handlers wear the same outfits: coveralls, tabard, spats and hats. The costumes were designed to coordinate with the Smokey balloon: blue and brown with Smokey’s face on the tabard. Director Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Management, and Gwen Beavans, branch chief for Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation, were two of 40 balloon handlers guiding the massive balloon along the parade route. The new balloon is 16 feet long, 25 feet wide and 51 feet tall.
Smokey’s message is no less important today than it was in 1944. In fact, Smokey received so much mail that at one point, the U.S. Postal Service gave him a personal zip code. Smokey still receives mail each year, often simply addressed to Smokey Bear 20252. His website, smokeybear.com, has information about his history, and educational materials for teachers and kids.
The parade wasn’t Smokey’s last national birthday event of the year. On Wednesday, Dec. 4, during the Secretary’s Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Whitten Patio, Smokey was recognized for his 75 years of service and helped light the Secretary’s Christmas tree. This event preceded the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree which came from the Carson National Forest in New Mexico.