One of our country’s most beloved icons and most successful public service ads was Smokey.


            Smokey was created during World War II to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. With so many men engaged in the war there was were too few left that could be used to fight fires. Additionally, even though it proved ineffective, the Japanese had tried to start fires in the forests of Oregon during the Lookout Air Raids of September 1942.

            Disney’s Bambi and friends were initially used in the fire prevention campaign but was soon replaced by a bear. This bear took his name from a NYC Fire Dept. hero called “Smokey” Joe Martin.

            Smokey Bear donned blue jeans and a campaign hat for his first poster designed by Albert Staehle. Smokey’s motto: “Smokey Says—Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!”


A Living Bear

            In 1950 a black bear cub was caught in a tree by a wildfire that burned the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. His paws and hind legs were burnt. “Hotfoot Teddy” was rescued by a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas and his burns were treated. Soon the cub was flown to the National Zoo in DC where he remained until his death on 9 November 1976. His remains are buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in New Mexico.  (

            Leaving no progeny, Smokey was joined by Little Smokey also from the Lincoln Forest in 1971. Upon Smokey’s retirement in 1975 Little Smokey took the title of “Smokey Bear II.” He in turn died in August of 1990.

The Message

            In 1947 Smokey’s message was changed to: “Remember…Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.”

            With Smokey’s popularity commercial interest was high. In 1952 Congress passed the Smokey Bear Act to place control of the character to the Department of Agriculture which used the royalties from Smokey goods sold to help fund fire prevention education.

            In 1952 Ideal Toys released a Smokey doll which included a card that children could mail in to become junior forest rangers. Half a million children applied. In 1954 Smokey was given his own zip code of 20252.

            Smokey appeared not only on posters and in television ads but in song, in books, on postage stamps, and was often seen chatting with celebrities.



Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires




For more information about Smokey’s history, how to prevent wildfires, and other resources, visit Smokey at his website:

A video offered by the National Wildlife Coordinating Group ( can be found on youtube at: This has a history of Smokey Bear and several of the campaign's radio and TV ads.