Happy Birthday Smokey

Arguably the most recognizable person when it comes to wildfire awareness isn’t even a person at all. It’s a bear! Odds are you just thought of Smokey Bear – like we said, recognizable, right?


Smokey’s actually been fighting wildfires for decades. In fact, Smokey Bear is celebrating his 70th birthday this summer, coming up soon on August 9. Happy Birthday Smokey Bear! In honor of his big birthday, we thought we’d offer up a blog post about the life and hard work of Smokey.

First, Smokey Bear needs a little historical context. Though wildfires have always been a problem, World War II brought a new importance to wildfire fighting and awareness. With most able-bodied American men fighting the war, hardly anyone was available to fight wildfires, so public awareness campaigns were launched in hopes of preventing the fires before they started.

In 1942 the Disney movie Bambi premiered, a film that features a destructive wildfire as part of the storyline. Walt Disney allowed the Bambi character to appear in public service campaigns about fire prevention, though the character was only loaned to the government for a year, so a new campaign symbol was needed.

Eventually a bear was chosen as the official wildfire prevention character. On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear’s first campaign poster was released, using the initial slogan of “Care will prevent 9 of 10 forest fires.”


Smokey’s slogan was changed in 1947 to the more familiar “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” The slogan was amended again in 2001 to replace “forest fires” with “wildfires,” so the slogan could also account for all types of wildfires (such as grassland fires), not just forest fires.

In the 1950s Smokey became an increasingly recognizable part of popular culture, appearing in cartoons, comic strips, children’s books, and radio programs. Congress enacted the Smokey Bear Act in 1952, which removed Smokey from public domain and placed the character under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. This act allowed for Smokey’s royalties to be used for ongoing fire prevention and education. Smokey also interviewed various celebrities about fire prevention in the 1950s and 1960s as well.

A living symbol of Smokey was adopted in 1950 when a bear cub was rescued from a tree during a wildfire in New Mexico. After the badly burned bear was rehabilitated, he was brought to his new home at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., where he was named Smokey and became the living mascot of fire prevention.

Smokey Bear’s campaign continues to this day, still appearing across mediums to Americans about fire prevention and awareness. Smokey is considered to be among the most enduring and recognizable campaigns in all of public service advertising, with the bear being recognized by an estimated 95% of U.S. adults.

We at RMCat would like to tip our hats to Smokey for all his hard work and dedication to fire prevention, and would also like to wish Smokey a Happy 70th Birthday! Click here to sign Smokey’s birthday card!

Oh, and on behalf of Smokey, remember: “Only You…”


To contact Rocky Mountain Catastrophe, call 970-722-7744 or email [email protected].

For more info/image credits: Smokey Bear on Wikipedia