The iconic Smokey the Bear turns 75 today.
Good ol’ Smokey is a household figure these days, and perhaps the U.S. Forest Service’s oldest, most loyal employee. For the past 75 years, Smokey has dedicated his life to wildfire prevention and education with just one signature phrase (you know what it is):
“Only YOU can prevent wildfires!”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, Smokey was born on August 9, 1944, when the USD Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that the fictional bear would be the perfect spokesperson for forest fire prevention. But Smokey took a very real form in 1950, when a fire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico burned a baby black bear’s forest, leaving him orphaned.
According to SmokeyBear.com, Smokey’s official website, the young cub climbed a tree to escape the blaze but was still badly burned. Fire crews rescued the little bear from the tree, and a rancher agreed to take him home.
Moved by the little cub’s bravery, crews dubbed him Smokey. He became an instant sensation, and soon found a permanent home in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He was a living, breathing symbol of Smokey the Bear.
Technically, Smokey’s name is actually “Smokey Bear” (no “the). A popular anthem written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins added “the” in the name to keep rhythm. The song became popular enough to change Smokey’s name in popular opinion, but officially, his name never changed.
Smokey is an American Black Bear and weighs over 300 pounds. He’s most frequently spotted wearing his uniform of blue jeans and a ranger hat with his name on it. His favorite foods are ants, insects, fish, bark, plants, roots, and berries. His full-time job with the Forest Service keeps him busy, but he does make sure to get a good, long snooze every winter during hibernation season.
If you see Smokey around town today or at any point this summer, be sure to give him a high five. If you need a little Friday distraction, do yourself a favor and look up the hashtag #SingforSmokey on Facebook and Instagram. And, as always, help him out and do your part to prevent wildfires.
Jackson’s celebration of Smokey’s birthday at the 4th of July Parade this year