8 Things Americans Don’t Know about Smokey the Bear

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Unless you’ve lived in an urban cave and never entered a national park in the USA (or turned on a TV for that matter) you’re familiar with Smokey the Bear. This iconic Ursus americanus has educated the general public for generations with his trademark slogan, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” But there are many things Americans might not know about good ole Smokey – for example, did you know he’s a war hero? And a music star? For more little-known facts about our favourite bear (take that Yogi) see our list below.

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Smokey is Old. Like, Grandpa Old

Smokey the Bear first appeared on the poster above in August of 1944, meaning he’s 70 years old. That means so far he’s lived about three times longer than a normal bear.

He’s a War Hero

During World War II, wood was a necessary commodity and the last thing the government wanted was to lose it to forest fires, especially given the fact most able-bodies were overseas. So the forest service began pasting colourful posters all over the country to educate the public about how to prevent fires.

He got Bambi’s Job

Smokey the bear was actually pre-dated by Walt Disney’s famous character Bambi. The cuddly baby deer first made its debut in 1942 in a full-length animated film and soon after Walt allowed Bambi to appear in fire prevention public service ads. But, the contract to use Bambi was only 12 months long so once it was up, the Forest Service chose a bear and named him after “Smokey” Joe Martin, an NYC Fire Dept hero.

Smokey Died in 1976

For 26 years Smokey was embodied in a very real black bear that was rescued from a wildfire in New Mexico in 1950. The cub sustained burns on his paws and hind legs but was nursed back to health and named “Smokey Bear” after the mascot. He lived at the National Zoo for 26 years and had so many visitors and letters addressed to him (up to 13,000 a week) that the US Postal Service gave him his own zip code. Smokey died on Nov. 9, 19776 and his remains were returned to New Mexico and buried at what is now Smokey Bear Historical Park.

Smokey is a Pop Star

There’s no doubt Smokey the Bear is an icon. But did you know he had a successful pop song named for him in 1952 or that he made a cameo appearance in the Walt Disney movie In the Bag? He’s also appeared in a radio series, a Little Golden Book for kids, an ABC animated series, and, of course, innumerable posters and advertisements. Smokey also has a YouTube channel, Twitter account and Facebook profile with hundreds of thousands of followers.

He has Three Bosses

The character of Smokey the Bear was created by artist Harold Rosenberg but is now administered by three entities: the United States Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council. The name and image are protected by U.S. federal law, specifically the Smokey Bear Act of 1952. Interestingly, during the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, Smokey the Bear was laid off. That is, a statue outside of the US Forest Service office in Sisters, Oregon sported a “Laid Off” sign because all Forest Service employees had to take temporary leave during the shutdown, which was brought about when the two sides of Congress failed to agree on a 2014 budget.

Smokey Just had a Face Lift

For his 70th birthday, Smokey was awarded a new, more “huggable” look thanks to a campaign created for free by agency FCB West. In fact, Smokey the Bear and his message about preventing wildfires is one of the most successful Public Service Announcement campaigns in US history. During his lifetime, Smokey has received 1.4 billion in donated air time and ad space from media companies. And all this messaging has worked because no less than 96 percent of the American population recognize Smokey and, more importantly, the average number of acres lost annually to wildfire has decreased from 22 million in 1944 to an average of 6.7 million today.

Smokey’s Relationship to the Bandit

Ever wonder why truckers will call a state trooper “Smokey”? It actually relates back to Smokey the Bear and, more specifically, his hat. Smokey is always seen wearing the campaign hat of the US National Park Service. In fact, the hat has become so synonymous with the character, it’s referred to as the “Smokey Bear.” And that same style of hat is worn by state police officers.

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