Smokey Bear, the hottest American icon, has a birthday

The 1953 Ideal Toy Corporation Smokey Bears were made in two sizes, the 18-inch selling for $4.95 and 25-inch retailing for $14.95 at the time. Good luck finding this guy today. Photographed by Mary Jane Lamphier.

Smokey Bear made his first appearance on the American scene August 9, 1944. Smokey Bear was designed for the United States Forest Service to help teach people how to prevent as many forest fires as possible. Initially, Albert Staehle was the artist that created Smokey Bear images. A couple years later Rudy Wendelin took over the job for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Every year an artist designs a poster with Smokey Bears image and a new message of fire prevention. Smokey Bear says, “Remember Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” and other easy to read and to understand statements pertaining to fire prevention. The slogans along with Smokey Bears image may be used on other items such as card board fans, postcards, book markers and ink blotters, all of which are collectibles.

The posters continue to be widely distributed in U.S. parks, grade schools classrooms, and more recently through catalogues. The USDA artist is also the person responsible for the life—sized Smokey Bear images stepping out from the forest shadows and standing along highways near dense tree populations.

One of the most popular books about Smokey Bear is The True Story of Smokey Bear written by Jane Werner Watson © 1955 Western Publishing Company. The book was authorized and approved by the State Foresters and by the Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture. It tells the story of a real bear that was born in a forest in New Mexico, and how the cub survived a forest fire and was rescued by a forest ranger. According to the book, the ranger picked the bear up and asked, “What’s your name fellow, Smokey?” After the rescue, Smokey was taken to the Washington D.C. zoo.

The news media kept the public informed on Smokey’s progress. Smokey Bear, both the image and the real, became more and more famous. Smokey Bear was given a zip code and in 1984, Smokey Bear was honored with a U.S postage stamp. There is also a museum at in Smokey’s honor at Captain, N.M. Smokey the Bear, died in 1976 and was replaced at the zoo with another black bear. According to one report, Smokey died again in the 1990s and this time he was not replaced.

The original Smokey Bear image will never die. Smokey Bear as we know it today is a fantasy, an anthropomorphic bear with hands and feet almost like humans. And the bear wears blue jeans, a hat, a badge like the forest rangers and he has human voice. This is the bear that has become an American icon.

Smokey Bear continues to be in the news. Illustrator, Harry Rossoll drafted more than 1000 “Smokey Says” cartoons for the newspapers. All these years Smokey Bear merchandise has been available to the public to help support forest preservation. This merchandise has become highly collectible. The Ideal Toy Corporation was one of the first toy companies involved with Smokey Bear and fire prevention. Stuffed bears were not new to Morris Michtom, the owner of the toy company. He and his wife, Rose, began producing stuffed bears in 1903. Michtom was the man that named his bears Teddy Bears after Teddy Roosevelt.

History reveals Michtom was instrumental in getting a law passed by the 82cnd United States Congress permitting the U.S. government to “license” the Ideal Toy Corporation for the Smokey Bear toys that come out in 1953.