Little Bits of History

YOU Can Prevent Wild Fires

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 9, 2014
Smokey Bear's 1944 poster

Smokey Bear’s 1944 poster

August 9, 1944: Smokey Bear’s debut poster is released. The day is considered to be his anniversary date. The first poster was illustrated by Albert Staehle. Knickerbocker Bears received a license to produce Smokey Bear dolls in 1944 and later in the year, Forest Service worker Rudy Wendelin became the full-time campaign artist, a position he retained until his retirement in 1973. Even before the beginning of World War II, wildfires were an issue, but the war brought even greater concerns. With most able-bodied men already serving in the armed forces, there were none available to help contain forest fires on the West Coast. With greater care, it was hoped the number of fires could be drastically reduced.

The Walt Disney movie, Bambi, had been released on August 13, 1942. Disney permitted the characters from the movie to appear in fire prevention public service campaigns. But the deal lasted only for one year and then Bambi and friends were no longer available. The government needed to come up with a new symbol. A bear was chosen and his name was inspired by “Smokey” Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who had suffered burns and blindness after a 1922 rescue. In 1952, a song was written called “Smokey the Bear” and the authors included the “middle name” to help with the rhythm of the song. In 1955, Little Golden Books had a Smokey the Bear book, also with the central article added, and Smokey referred to himself with all three names. The name was intentionally not spelled the same as the adjectival smoky.

In 1947, the slogan used for more than the next half century was coined: “Remember … only YOU can prevent forest fires.” In 2001, it was officially changed and now we can prevent wildfires. In the spring of 1950, the Capitan Gap fire burned 17,000 acres in the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico. A small black bear cub had climbed a tree to escape the flames but his paws and hind legs had been burned. Although legend says a game warden rescued the cub, New Mexico State Forestry Division’s story is that a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas had come to help fight the fire and discovered the cub. They brought him back to camp where they named him Hotfoot Teddy but he eventually became known as Smokey, the real life symbol of the need to protect our land from spreading fires.

Today, Smokey is administered by three different US entities. First is the United States Forest Service. Next is the National Association of State Foresters, and lastly is the Ad Council. Both the name and image are protected by US federal law. About 95% of US adults and 77% of children recognize the icon and help spread his message of safety, something only WE can do.

We have at least 125 communities in Arizona at risk from wildfire, not because of review processes or litigation delays but because of a lack of federal funding on the ground to actually begin the projects. – Janet Napolitano

I’d rather fight 100 structure fires than a wildfire. With a structure fire you know where your flames are, but in the woods it can move anywhere; it can come right up behind you. – Tom Watson

Arizona’s forest fires are not waiting for April, and neither will we. That is why I am pushing for stepped up deployment for Hot Shot wildfire crews in March rather than April, in order to better prepare for the expected fires in northern Arizona. – Rick Renzi

Only You Can Prevent Wildfires. – Smokey Bear

Also on this day: Lean On Me – In 1173, construction on the world’s most famous bell tower begins.
Much Brighter – In 1979, Brighton Beach was given permission as a nude beach.
Betty Boop – In 1930, Betty made her debut.
Walden – In 1854, Thoreau published his book.

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One Response

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  1. hairballexpress said, on August 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Wow! That was a Pawsome post!! Thanks, human!


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