As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd and reflect on the ways we can give back to nature, the first brand mascot that comes to mind in that thought process is Smokey Bear. At 71, Smokey is still a familiar, reassuring symbol of protection of America’s forests from human-caused wildfires.
But what do we really know about Smokey Bear anyway? Find out who the original stars of the Wildfire Prevention campaigns were, whether Smokey ever had any sidekicks, and more fun facts on this environmental icon.
1. Smokey didn’t appear in the initial Wildfire Prevention campaign.
When the campaign started in 1942, the original poster stars were none other than the animated characters in Disney’s “Bambi” which featured an infamous wildfire forest scene involving the animals.
However, Bambi & Co’s run on posters was short-lived as Disney only loaned the characters to the campaign for one year. In 1944, the search was on for a new animal symbol. The U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council settled on Smokey since nothing seemed more fitting than using a majestic, powerful, and cute, bear. A smart choice, especially since today research has shown that 8 in 10 adults and 3 in 4 18-24 year olds recognize Smokey.
2. From the beginning, Smokey wore a hat and jeans.
For the first post of Smokey Bear, as seen above, artist Albert Staehle painted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire and saying “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.” United States Forest Service employee Rudolph Wendelin would begin artwork for Smokey in 1944. Wendelin would ensure that Smokey’s image was placed on a variety of forest fire prevention materials and served as his “caretaker” until Wendelin retired in 1973.
3. Jackson Weaver and Sam Elliott have each voiced Smokey.
Washington D.C. radio personality Jackson Weaver served as the original voice for Smokey until 1992. While other voice actors have also voiced Smokey since then, perhaps one of the most recognizable is actor Sam Elliott, who has voiced Smokey since 2008.
In an ironic twist, Elliott was even born on the same day as Smokey – August 9th, 1944!
4. Is his name actually Smokey Bear or Smokey the Bear?
Ah, the great anthem debate Smokey enthusiasts have been mulling over for years! The correct answer is Smokey Bear. In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a song called “Smokey the Bear” and added a “the” in order to maintain the right rhythm.
5. His favorite food is honey.
Just like a certain Pooh Bear, Smokey enjoys honey along with other forest takeout delicacies like salmon and bark. Smokey is also a black bear who weighs over 300 pounds, can typically be spotted standing upright with a shovel, and his favorite saying is – what else? – “Only you can prevent wildfires.” to promote a message of environmental conservation and protection to one and all.