You probably recognize the name Smokey Bear, and if you don’t, you might recognize his headshot. If that doesn’t spark a memory, how about his popular phrase, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”?
Who is Smokey Bear, and what is his role in wildfire suppression? Find out below.
Who is Smokey Bear?
Smokey Bear is a mascot in the U.S. designed to teach the public about wildfires - any unwanted, unplanned, uncontrolled outdoor fire. He is often seen donning a ranger’s hat, wearing blue jeans, and carrying a dirt shovel. His slogan “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” outlines what Smokey stands for — to educate the public about their role in preventing human-caused wildfires.
Smokey Bear History
Smokey Bear was created as part of an advertising campaign in 1944 by Harold Rosenberg. Although you may remember him as Smokey the Bear, the original Ad Council named him Smokey Bear. The name Smokey the Bear evolved through various cultural references, such as the 1952 “Smokey the Bear” song written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins and a 1955 book in the Little Golden Books series. However, his name remains Smokey Bear.
Although his name has been preserved throughout the years, other aspects of Smokey Bear have evolved. When first introduced, his slogan read, “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” Shortly afterward, it was changed to “Remember . . . Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” before the current slogan was adopted in 2001.
Originally, Smokey Bear was created during World War II to raise awareness of firefighting efforts. Since many men were fighting in the war, firefighters were in short supply. Instead of seeking out more resources and able bodies, the idea was to prevent wildfires in the first place.
When created, the character was administered to the United States Forest Service, the Ad Council, and the National Association of State Foresters. Thanks to the Smokey Bear Act of 1952, Smokey Bear’s name and image are protected under U.S. federal law. Profits from commercial use of his image are used to fund forest fire prevention programs.
How Smokey Bear Prevents Wildfires
In the 1950s, Smokey Bear’s image was used in cartoons, books, and comic strips. His likeness even appeared in radio programs, and he also became a doll. Today, he educates the public about wildfires through television, radio, print, digital, and outdoor advertisements.
You can also find Smokey Bear in schools educating young students about fire safety and risks. In fact, teachers can find resources at SmokeyBear.com to educate elementary and middle school kids. Resources include:
- Activity guides
- Whiteboard activities
- And more!
Has Smokey Bear Truly Helped Prevent Wildfires?
If you look at the numbers, you’ll find that the number of wildfires has decreased significantly since Smokey Bear was introduced to the American public.
According to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, there were an average of 167,277 wildfires annually in the 1930s. By the 1950s after Smokey Bear was introduced, wildfires were averaging 125,948 per year. In the 1990s, that number had dropped to 106,306.
While these numbers include all wildfires, which can be attributed to human causes, lightning storms, and other causes, the number of wildfires per year are clearly decreasing. In the early 2000s, wildfires started by humans were down to 65,000 per year.
Smokey Bear has long been a symbol of wildfire prevention in our country, and after 70 years, one can assume he’ll be sticking around for quite some time. While you may already be familiar with Smokey Bear, it’s worth checking him out at SmokeyBear.com for additional resources. You can also use the site to educate your own children or students about wildfire safety.