Ever since I was little I loved the Smokey Bear commercials, there was something cool about a bear with a ranger hat on who spoke with a very deep voice. Smokey the Bear has been fighting forest fires through his commercials for more than six decades and is still going strong. Smokey has been a huge part of American history, spreading his message of forest fire prevention, teaching children and adults about how to safely put out a potential forest fire and keep the National Forests safe from accidental fires. Smokey’s new campaign features commercials with people spreading his message and turning into him to make people put out their fires and cigarettes.
During WWII, wildfires were a big issue. With all the good men overseas fighting, there were very few left to fight fires. The Forest Service then issued colorful posters to educate the public on forest fire prevention saying that forest fires helped the enemy. Later in 1944 a bear was chosen for the mascot of forest fire prevention. Smokey was named after a New York City fireman named “Smokey” Joe Martin who shrugged off burns and blindness in a bold 1922 rescue. Smokey’s first poster was released on August 9, 1944, his birthday.
In the spring of 1950 a bear cub was caught in the Capitan Gap Fire, a wildfire that burned 17,000 acres in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. The cub was in the Lincoln National Forest. He had climbed a tree to escape the fire, but his paws and hind legs were burned badly. He was rescued by a game warden after the fire, who then took care of him and named him Hotfoot but later renamed him Smokey, creating a living symbol of forest fire prevention.
For Smokey’s 50th birthday in 1994, he was honored with a U.S. postage stamp that pictured a cub hanging onto a burned tree. The commercial for his birthday showed woodland animals about to throw Smokey a surprise birthday party with a cake with candles. When Smokey comes blindfolded, he smells smoke and, not knowing they were candles, he uses his shovel to destroy the fire. He takes off his blindfold to see that it was a birthday cake for him and he apologizes.
Smokey has had many voices. Jackson Weaver was the first voice heard on the air until his death in October 1992. The newest voice of Smokey is voiced by actor Sam Elliot. The Hit song “Smokey the Bear,” by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, created confusion for Smokey fans. The did not know whether to call him Smokey Bear or Smokey the Bear, but his real name is Smokey Bear. Smokey Bear is my hero because he is strong and will stay to fight the fire if necessary, but he would rather have you douse it and cover it up so he won't have to. Remember Smokey’s words: “Only you can prevent wildfires."