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The Bear

December 4, 2009

It at least seems like a lot of pressure to put on a kid: "Only you can prevent forest fires!"

But Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service's fire prevention mascot, has been an effective messenger since the 1940s!

One of the most popular animal advertising mascots of all time, Smokey Bear has been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and in nearly every Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1968. He also starred in his very own animated series on ABC TV for two years. He managed to crop up on and off in his own comic book titles for twenty years.

The much celebrated anti-arson environmentalist was featured in a traveling exhibition in 1994 to celebrate his golden anniversary. This year, he celebrates his 65th anniversary.

Smokey Bear (often unofficially referred to as Smokey the Bear) is a mascot of the United States Forest Service created to educate the public on the dangers of forest fires. Smokey Bear's message, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," was created in 1944 by the Ad Council. In April 2001, Smokey's message was updated to "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires." According to the Ad Council, Smokey Bear and his message are recognized by 95% of adults and 77% of children in the U.S.

Smokey's correct full name is Smokey Bear. In 1952, the songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins had a hit with "Smokey the Bear". The pair said that "the" was added to Smokey's name to keep the song's rhythm. This small change has caused confusion among Smokey fans ever since. Note that, from the beginning, Smokey's name was intentionally spelled differently from the adjective smoky. The Forest Service emphatically denies that the name was ever "Smokey the Bear"; however, in the 1950s, that variant of the name became very widespread both in the popular imagination and in print, including at least one standard encyclopedia. The campaign to remind the public of the correct version of the name is almost as old as the Smokey Bear campaign itself.

The fictional character Smokey Bear is administered by three entities: the United States Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council. Smokey Bear's name and image are protected by U.S. federal law, the Smokey Bear Act of 1952 (16 U.S.C. 580 (p-2); 18 U.S.C. 711).

Smokey the icon
Following the discovery of the living symbol of Smokey Bear, the character became a big part of American popular culture in the 1950s. He was on radio shows in the 1950s with the Sons of the Pioneers and appeared in comic strips and cartoons.

On the back of the song sheet was printed the Conservation Pledge:

I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully to defend from waste the natural resources of my country – its soil and minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife.

In 1952, after Smokey Bear attracted considerable commercial interest, the Smokey Bear Act, an act of Congress, was passed to take Smokey out of the public domain and place him under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. The act provided for the use of Smokey's royalties for continued education on forest fire prevention.

A Smokey Bear doll was released by Ideal Toys in 1952, which included a mail-in card for children to become Junior forest rangers. Within three years half a million kids had applied. In April 1964, Smokey was given his own ZIP code, 20252.

In 1955, the first children’s book was published, followed by many sequels and coloring books. Soon thousands of dolls, toys, and other collectibles were on the market.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Ad Council sponsored radio ads, featuring Smokey Bear "in conversation" with prominent American celebrity stars such as Bing Crosby, Art Linkletter, Dinah Shore, Roy Rogers, and many others.

Smokey lends his name and image to the Smokey Bear Awards, which are awarded by the United States Forest Service:

"To recognize outstanding service in the prevention of wildland fires and to increase public recognition and awareness of the need for continuing fire prevention efforts."

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