Smokey The Bear is having a birthday! He turns 70 years old on Saturday August 9, 2014. He’s even older than Major Ursus! And still keeps going. His original name was just Smokey Bear, but the “The” got added when some people wrote a song about him. In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a tune celebrating the popular bear and added “the” for rhythm to work, and it sort of stuck.
The Smokey Bear we recognize today was created by an advertising agency to remind people of the dangers of forest fires. With his signature yellow rangers hat and shovel and bare hairy bear chest and blue pants he pointed with assurance and said “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”. But he’s recently updated his line to “wildfires” to be more inclusive, because fires can burn more than just trees.
Smokey Bear never talks a lot in his commercial message, sort of the strong silent bear type, but when the camera is off he’s pretty chatty. “It turns out he does have a voice and it’s very clever,” said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. Still, Smokey’s message is sometimes best relayed through silence. A series of new YouTube videos have been created for 70th birthday show Smokey giving silent bear hugs (#SmokeyBearHug) to campers who properly build and extinguish camp fires and safely dispose of used barbeque charcoal, among other things. There is even a Facebook App called “Smokey and Me” where fans can upload a photo of themselves next to Smokey and then save, print, or share it with friends.
The original Smokey was actually a real bear cub saved by some Forest Fire Fighters. But in 1944, when America was at war and there was a fear that some enemies could start forest fires at home while firefighters were off being soldiers, the character of Smokey Bear and his preventing fires message was really meant to be on the lookout of saboteurs. But after the war the U.S. Forest Service thought he could warn people about being careless and more national parks were being created. He got really popular in 1952 when he went on television and Smokey Bear is now part of the longest running public service campaign in U.S. history. According to research figures, our friend Smokey is known by 96 percent of American adult people and is only slightly less famous than Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus. His creation was a collaboration of the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.