Happy 65th, Smokey the Bear

Jonesboro(KAIT)-- August 9th is officially Smokey Bear's, or Smokey the Bear's, birthday.  Today, he turns 65 years old.

Back in the early forties, the United States Forest Service used Disney characters to educate the public about the importance of fire safety.  However, these characters were only on loan from Walt Disney, so in 1944, a new symbol was needed.  Smokey the Bear was born.

The debut poster depicted Smokey putting out a campfire with a bucket of water, while dressed in his signature ensemble of jeans and his campaign hat.  The message simply said, "Smokey says--Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires."

Since then, Smokey Bear has become an icon for all ages.  In the fifties, the symbol could be seen on comic strips, cartoons, even books.  Ideal Toys released the Smokey Bear doll in 1952, and inside the package, children could receive a mail-in card to become a Junior Forest Ranger.  Half a million kids applied within three years.

During the 50s and 60s, celebrities such as Bing Crosby and Roy Rogers could be heard on the radio having a conversation with Smokey.

When Smokey turned 50 years old, he was given the privelege of being on a postage stamp.  The stamp depicted a cub hanging from a burning tree, based off of the living symbol that was rescued from a wildfire in New Mexico in 1950.  The cub was first named Hotfoot Teddy, but the name was later changed to Smokey.

Smokey the Bear has been a staple in popular culture throughout the years.  His lessons of preventing forest fires has stuck with many people as they have grown up.  Lessons, they themselves will pass on.

"I'm almost forty and I grew up with the icon,"  Jason Wilkie, Director of Parks and Recreation, states, "Only I can prevent forest fires. I keep that.  I teach that to my kids."

Rebecca Lane