Happy 70th birthday, Smokey the Bear, one of the most recognizable characters in American history. On August 9, 1944, the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign published the very first Smokey Bear poster.
Who remembers “Only you can prevent forest fires”. Of course, when I was growing up, I had never been in a real forest, just a city park. I just thought that they were referring to people putting out their cigarettes before they threw them away.
Note that Smokey the Bear has an “e” in it. Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t. The Smoky Mountains refers to the blue haze or smoke. I always associate Smokey the Bear with the U.S. Forest Service.
A little history
The ad campaign came about as a result of World War II. Thinking that wildfires could be used as a weapon, the Japanese military in 1942 began making attempts at starting wildfires along the coastal forests of southwest Oregon.
Between November of 1944 and April of 1945 the Japanese began a campaign of launching more than 9000 “fusen bakudan”, or fire balloons, into the jet stream. The balloons were equipped with a 15 kilogram antipersonnel bomb and two incendiary devices, which were designed to explode upon impact. It’s estimated that 300 to 1000 of the balloons made it to the United States, including as far inland as Iowa and Michigan.
According to a 2009 report by the Ad Council, Smokey Bear and his message are recognized by 95% of adults and 77% of children.