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The story of Smokey Bear

Office of Communication
August 4, 2014 at 2:15pm

Smokey Bear was born on Aug. 9, 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention.

Artist Albert Staehle was asked to paint the first poster of Smokey Bear. It depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire and saying “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.” Smokey Bear soon became very popular as his image appeared on a variety of forest fire prevention materials. In 1947, his slogan became the familiar “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!”

Then in the spring of 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, a young bear cub found himself caught in a burning forest. He took refuge in a tree, and while managing to stay alive was left badly burned. The firefighters who retrieved him were so moved by his bravery, they named him Smokey.

News about this real bear named Smokey spread across the Nation, and he was soon given a new home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The living symbol of Smokey Bear, he played an important role in spreading messages of wildfire prevention and forest conservation. Smokey died in 1976 and was returned to Capitan, New Mexico, where he is buried in the State Historical Park.

This week, Smokey Bear celebrates his 70th birthday. Join his efforts by taking the pledge.

Smokey's 70th Birthday: Wildfire Prevention


To find out more about Smokey's story and to see how the campaign has changed through the years, please visit “Smokey's Journey.”

Information courtesy Advertising Council

Did you know? A photo of Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin developed Smokey Bear artwork for special events, publications, and licensed products.

  • It’s Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear. “The” was added when songwriters penned Smokey’s tune. It helped with the rhythm of the song. It's the only time Smokey Bear ever has a middle name.
  • Disney loaned Bambi to the Ad Council for one year for their fire prevention effort prior to Smokey Bear.
  • The Forest Service and War Advertising Council introduced a bear as the fire prevention campaign symbol. Illustrator Albert Staehle drew the first Smokey Bear. Two years later, Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin.
  • Nine out of every 10 wildfires are human caused. Do your part.
  • Ensure your campfire is out: drown it, stir it, drown it again then touch it to see if it’s cold.









    Want a letter from Smokey Bear? Just write him a letter and “ZIP it” with 20252.

U.S. Forest Service illustration by Mary Jane Senter.












Smokey Says - Episode 1 "Extinguishing a Campfire"

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