If you grew up near the forests of the United States, or really if you just grew up anywhere in the United States, there’s a good chance you were exposed to Smokey the Bear. Maybe in school, maybe in televised PSAs, or maybe in wilderness parks. Smokey the Bear has stood as a symbol for protected our forests since the 1940s, with generation after generation growing up under his influence. But that’s not his real name, is it? Maybe you already knew this, maybe you didn’t, but there is no “the” in Smokey’s full name. That’s right folks, it’s just Smokey Bear.
In 1944, Smokey Bear made his first appearance on Forest Service posters. Posters using images of “Bambi” characters had proved the use of cartoon animals to be successful, but Disney only loaned out the cartoons to the service for a year. On August 9 of that year, the Forest Service officially authorized the creation of their own character, and on October 10, artist Albert Staehle delivered the first poster of the bear we know and love today.
In 1950, New Mexico’s Captain Mountains were struck with a major wildfire. A lone bear cub was left orphaned by the burn. He had taken refuge in a tree, suffering major burns to his paws and hind legs. Forest fire fighters and a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish ranger transported the bear to Santa Fe. He was eventually moved to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where he became the living image of Smokey Bear until his death in 1976. The bear now lies at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico.
“Smokey The Bear”
In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the song that many now associate with the famous cartoon bear. Unfortunately, “Smokey Bear” didn’t quite fit the rhythm of the song. The musicians added “the” to make the name roll off the tongue just a bit more. Since then, many have associated “Smokey The Bear” with the wildfire fighting animal. The service, however, has officially never changed the name. He is still, like it or not, Smokey Bear.
Image Credit: Smokey Bear via Facebook