By Marj Frew, with information gathered from the website, www.smokeybear75th.org.
Children of all ages, from 1 to 101, recognize the burly mascot of forest fire prevention, Smokey Bear, in his signature jeans, brown fuzzy torso, and firefighter’s hat emblazoned with his name, SMOKEY.
Smokey has been seen at local parades, county fairs, and fire prevention events. He has been known to spray parade goers with a stream of water from a fire truck, and has been known to dance with unsuspecting ladies if music is playing. He’s quite active for his age.
Smokey Bear was born seventy-five years ago, in a campaign to prevent forest fires by the Forest Service. His heritage has a rather interesting beginning.
The date was August 9, 1944. Smokey was born out of the need to prevent forest fires, due to the lack of manpower, caused by World War II. With many men serving in the military, a shortage of manpower for fire fighting was a genuine concern. Along with other wartime rallies, the call to Americans included posters and slogans from the Forest Service including “Forest Fires Aid the Enemy,” and “Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon.”
At the same time, Disney’s movie, “Bambi,” popularized the characters of the forest, and for one year, Bambi was used as a symbol for fire prevention. The Forest Service’s agreement with Disney was only for a year, and the symbol of the majestic, yet cute, bear was decided.
Smokey’s long-time catchphrase of “Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires,” still rings true today. Local firemen agree that Smokey’s message is as important today as when it was created.
The next time you see Smokey at the fair, at a parade, or sleeping in a tree, be sure to wish him a Happy Birthday!