Smokey’s 76th Birthday – The History Behind the Bear
"Only YOU can prevent forest fires." We've all heard that tagline hundreds of times. I remember hearing it as a little kid and asking my parents if bears can really talk. Thanks to a campaign launched on August 9, 1944, the mascot of the US Forest Service has reminded us about fire safety for 76 years. The Grand Canyon division of the National Park Service shared a tweet honoring the famous spokes-bear.
Old Smokey Bear even has his own Twitter account, where he shared a picture of his birthday cake (hold the candles, please).
So where did the iconic bear get his start? Who came up with the idea and what humans have given him a voice to share his slogan over the years? According to the US Forest Service, Smokey Bear (note, there is no "the" in his name) was a joint project between the Forest Service and the Ad Council. They hired a Saturday Evening Post artist named Albert Staehle (who painted 26 covers for the magazine) to paint the first poster, with the caption “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.” The slogan was changed in 1947 to its current form of "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!".
For over two decades, there was a real Smokey Bear. In the spring of 1950 there was a bear cub that was burned while trying to escape a forest blaze. He was rescued from a tree by firefighters and they were so touched by the little bear that they named him Smokey. Smokey lived the remainder of his life at the National Zoo in Washington DC. He died in 1976 and was buried back in his home state of New Mexico at a memorial in the Smokey Bear Historical Park, a state park near Capitan, NM.
Smokey's voice was first narrated by a Washington DC radio DJ named Jack Weaver, in the 1950's, according to the marketing website The Drum. Over the years, various celebrities contributed to his message, including: B.B. King, Betty White, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, and Leonard Nimoy. Actor Sam Elliot provided a serious, gravely-toned inflection to Smokey's message for 12 years.
The current Smokey Bear campaign features Al Roker, Stephen Colbert, and Jeff Foxworthy. Kids might enjoy writing Smokey Bear a letter. His address is simple: Smokey Bear, Washington DC, 20252.