7 things you may not know about Smokey Bear

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If you’ve grownup in America this picture is very familiar to you. Smokey Bear is one of the most recognizable icons of American culture along side Santa Clause and Mickey Mouse. But how much do you really know about this beloved bear? Today marks Smokey’s 70th birthday, so I give you..

7 things you may not know about Smokey Bear

They call me Smokey Bear!

When the general public refers to him he is usually called “Smokey the Bear”, but this would be wrong. His actual name is Smokey Bear. The confusion began in 1952, when Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a song in his honor and added a “the” between “Smokey” and “Bear”.

His real origins

Many believe Smokey’s story started in 1950, when a small badly burned bear cub was found in the aftermath of a wildfire in the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico. His story made headlines and captivated the country. The young bear was given the name “Smokey” and was used to bolster the image and propaganda of Wildfire prevention. Sadly, instead of nursing him back to health and then releasing him back into the wild, Smokey spend his remaining days as an exhibit in the Washington D.C. National Zoo. After his death in 1975, he was buried in the newly named Smokey Bear Historical state park, near the place of his “rescue”. This is the story the U.S. Forest Service sells in everything from Smokey comic books to school visits by Smokey (minus the zoo encampment part) but this isn’t the truth.

 

One of the first ad posters
One of the first ad posters

The image of Smokey Bear was first used in 1944, as part of the War Department’s effort to get Americans involved in an anti-terrorism campaign. For reasons never fully explained, the government was afraid our enemies might fly over and start forest fires. The government wanted its citizens to be on the lookout for such fires. As part of their “We must treat them like children” campaign, the government came up with this poster in order to capture the American public’s attention.

Smokey’s love life?

In 1962, the National Zoo brought in a female bear named Goldie in the hopes that the aging bear would produce an heir. No such luck. Smokey must of ended up in Goldie’s “friend zone”, because no offspring came of their pairing. An “adopted” son was given to the couple so Smokey could retire. The subject of grandchildren never came up.

He receives how much fan mail?

The living image of Smokey Bear became so popular with American school children he was given his own Washington DC zip code of 20252 in 1964.

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Use this stamp when mailing your letters.

In 1984, the U.S. Postal Service created a postage stamp with the image of a small bear clinging to a tree in celebration of Smokey’s 40th birthday. This is the only time the postal service has honored an individual animal.

Changing catch phrases

The campaign’s original catch phrase was “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” In 1947 it was changed to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Most recently, in 2001, it was again modified to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” in response to a massive outbreak of wildfires in natural areas other than forests.

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A talking bear?

When Smokey was first introduced in recorded media (TV and radio) he did not say anything other than his signature catch phrase. To the disappointment to thousands of children nation wide, when making public appearances he does not talk. Sometimes as he walks away he may utter the line “Remember children, only you can prevent forest fires”. The Forest Service is very clear on this rule. Smokey is not allowed to talk. His “handler” does the talking for him. When working for the Nevada Division of Forestry I found out about the rules of the Forest Service pertaining to Smokey’s use. Only government entities like state forest departments are authorized to use his image.

Smokey has jumped on the social media bandwagon. He has a Twitter handle and his own Facebook page. Here you can find Smokey “talking”, yet on audio media he remains quiet. He gives out silent hugs on Youtube.

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And now you know! Happy Birthday Smokey

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

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